Saturday, June 07, 2014

Day of Reckoning for N.C.A.A.

Joe Nocera, NYT
JUNE 6, 2014

I began writing about the N.C.A.A. two and a half years ago, more or less by accident. Assigned by The New York Times Magazine to imagine a scheme in which athletes in the revenue sports — football and men’s basketball — get paid, I was awakened for the first time to inequities in the world of big-time college sports. Of course I knew that the coaches were getting rich while the players were getting nothing; everybody knew that. But I didn’t think that much about it. Neither did most fans, I would venture to guess.

In the course of my reporting, though, I began to see things differently. Big-time college athletes aren’t just playing a sport for the fun of it; they are a free labor force generating revenue in a multibillion dollar industry. Is it really right for Nick Saban, the football coach at Alabama to make $6.9 million a year — that’s the size of his new contract — while his players have to be content with a college scholarship? A scholarship, I might add, that doesn’t even guarantee a decent education, since so many players are guided into “courses” that simply allow them to remain eligible.

The N.C.A.A.’s highhanded ways — its investigations that lack not just due process but any sense of fairness, its petty rules and its cartel nature — all began to come into focus. “Amateurism,” the N.C.A.A.’s core concept, was, I firmly came to believe, a smoke screen designed to protect a lucrative business model that worked for everybody except the athletes. Although athletes are usually thought of as big men on campus, I discovered that many of them, coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, were essentially penniless during their college years.

So that original magazine story about paying the players went from being an interesting thought exercise to something I really believed in. I also thought that athletes should get extended scholarships, and more protections if they were injured or their health was compromised. I was convinced that the day would arrive when some of these changes would take place. But given the power and recalcitrance of the N.C.A.A., I thought that such a radical change was at least a decade away.

(More here.)

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