Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NCAA disillusionment

I had trouble sleeping last night, so instead of lying awake in the dark I turned on the bedside lamp and read an article in Atlantic Monthly: "The Shame of College Sports" by Taylor Branch, award-winning author of a magnificent 3-volume history of the civil rights era.

I knew that college sports were being corrupted by money but I hadn't fully appreciated what a villain the NCAA is until I read this article. I'm afraid I'll never be able really to enjoy "March Madness" again in the way I have in the past. Branch believes that the whole concept of the "student athlete" is not only a fiction, but is an hypocrisy which exploits college athletes in much the same way that slave owners exploited their slaves. College athletes at the big-money schools are bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of both their colleges and the NCAA, mainly through TV contracts, but if one of those athletes sells his jersey to someone, he has violated the rules and is suspended (even while his university bookstore is selling replicas of his jersey for $39.99).

A remedial English teacher at one of the NCAA schools, under pressure to insure that the athlete she was tutoring would get passing grades and thus maintain eligibility, did a stupid thing - the athlete was taking a test online and clicked "done," and left before he had completed the test. His buddy was there, so she had him open the test and finish it. She was fired, she sued and lost, and was blackballed by the NCAA. Although a competent and compassionate teacher, she couldn't get a job in any college in the US. She now works in a prison. Another teacher at an NCAA school was being pressured to fake grades so an athlete would pass. She refused and was fired. The university made clear to her in no uncertain terms that their star athlete was a lot more important than she was! She sued the university, but the NCAA didn't support her case.

Branch thinks that the NCAA is probably doomed. This may be wishful thinking, but there is a movement among the big football schools to bypass the whole NCAA-run bowl games and run their own national playoffs to determine the national football champion - sort of a "March Madness" for football. President Obama supports this idea. Branch figures that if they are successful at that, college basketball's "March Madness" itself will probably not be far behind. The schools may just figure out they don't need the NCAA. Eliminate the middleman! If that happens, the NCAA will lose 90% of its income. But it probably won't help the "student athlete."

Maybe there should be a law banning commercial TV cameras from any college sports event. If that happened (it never will!) I would miss "March Madness," but if I want to see basketball so badly, maybe I should just go to my nearest college and support the team in person.

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