Collegiate Athletics: Easily the Biggest Sham in Sports

Julius CaesarCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 29:  Deon Thompson #21 of the North Carolina Tar Heels and David Padgett #4 of the Louisville Cardinals go after the game opening tip-off during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Final at Bobcats Arena on March 29, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This notion of “amateur athletics” is not only naive, but ignorant and insulting. 

The latest NCAA violation screams for the need to reform the whole system. 

According to Yahoo! Sports, the University of Connecticut (UConn) showered former guard Nate Miles with restaurant meals, paid hotel stays, and transportation during the successful recruitment stage.  UConn also allegedly violated telephone contact regulations by leaps and bounds.      

Earlier this month, the NCAA governing body levied heavy fines and sanctions upon Florida State University (FSU) for different violations.

Unlike UConn, FSU waited to cheat until after its recruits signed its letter(s) of intent; school/team officials had tutors take on-line tests and ghostwrote papers for some of the players in 2006 and 2007.  See the full New York Times story here

Therefore, the surprise felt by many after the announcement that FSU produced a bona-fide Rhodes Scholarship winner appeared to be justified.  Said winner Myron Rhodes, however, appears to be on the level due to the committee’s vetting process. 

Before one can affect positive change, there are two prevailing schools of thought to consider. 

First, many doubt whether these accidental scholar athletes truly belong in places of higher learning.  Admissions requirements, after all, are widely “relaxed” to accommodate the stars—cheating scandals, notwithstanding. 

Former Notre Dame gridiron great Paul Hornung, during a 2004 radio interview, suggested that his alma mater, “must get the black athlete if we're going to compete.”  Blatant racist remarks, aside, the “fumbled” point is nonetheless valid. 

Many would-be experts have attributed the school’s failures to its notoriously difficult academic requirements.  Unlike most of its annually scheduled opponents, all fully matriculated students must take at least two semesters of Calculus.    

Second, these supposed not-for-profit organizations known as universities, clearly benefit from fielding competitive basketball and football teams. 

Sports Illustrated this week features Gonzaga during its “March Madness” Tournament coverage.  The author makes a compelling case that its law school program enjoyed quite a windfall from its recent foray into national basketball prominence.  The NCAA clearly enjoys lucrative television deals from CBS and ABC’s “family of networks.” 

More to the point, the 1993 film “The Program” best illustrates the fallacy of "amateur sports."  After responding to the Regent Chairman (“This is not a football vocational school. It's an institute for higher learning.”), the football head coach quips, “Yeah, but when was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a damn chemistry experiment?”   Next, an upperclassman ‘educated’ a freshman RB, played by Omar Epps:

The NC-double-[expletive] won't let us have jobs (referencing scholarships sufficient enough for just books and tuition), so you take your money where you can get it.  I'll keep it (an illegal cash endowment from a Booster) for you, until you see the light. [expletive]!, they oughta be payin' us anyway.   Athletic Department gets $3 million just for goin' to a bowl game.

Indeed.  Intercollegiate athletics should drop the tired charade.  “Students” should be viewed as indentured servants. 

Consider the above example of a chemistry experiment.  Said scientist would not, nor should he or she, be allowed to directly profit from the discovery of a new compound if university equipment and resources were used. 

However, the university would not, nor should not, be allowed to restrict said scientist from benefiting in the way of endorsement deals (e.g. Bunsen Burner or lab coat commercials).

Further, said scientist could parlay that discovery into an early employment (read: forgo completing his or her undergraduate studies) for a lucrative pharmaceutical company or think tank job. 

In that same vein, players should be afforded the opportunity to make money off their name—without improper use of the intellectual property of his or her school.

Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor each appeared in spots for Under Amour and Midway Games, respectively, without specifically naming the team or league with whom each player has become synonymous. 

University of Florida Quarterback Tim Tebow, for instance, should be able to enjoy a similar endorsement deal without risking his (laughable) “amateur” status. 

While it’s understandable that the NCAA should strive for fair competition among its member schools, there is no (ethical) justification for its evident restraint of trade.  Professional league draft(s) are equally illegal and immoral, but they are beyond the scope of this discussion. 

Not to fear, skeptical reader, there is a simple solution to address these concerns:  In addition to allowing students to reap such benefits, any university that wishes to participate in Division I athletics must require each of its student-athletes to adhere to the same standards as normal (read: non-athlete) students. 

If traditional majors either fail to pique the interest of the students or are otherwise beyond their appreciation (for want for a better descriptor), then schools need to offer an extensive "Athletic Studies" curriculum. 

An accredited “Athletic Studies” program should not be confused with Physical Education curricula.  Rather, any student admitted can gain credit hours:  (1) in separate classes devoted to specific sports, learn theories of coaching legends, analyze the playbook of the current team, and draft plays based on rudimentary understanding of both prerequisites; (2) nonstarters, can assemble scouting reports while watching practice and film for the coaches to grade and use in the following week’s game; (3) attend pre-med or sports medicine classes; (4) learn to become an agent or market product by partnering with the affiliated law and business schools; and (5) during the off-season, or on an off night, cover another team’s game, under the auspices of the journalism school.  Of course, any student admitted to a given university would be eligible for this major as well. 

Offering such a program may not only prevent the UConn and FSU scandals, but provide viable career paths for athletes after their playing days are over.  Some former athletes become coaches, scouts, general managers, trainers, agents, or journalists. 

Ex-players can even return to campus to become “Athletic Studies” faculty.  Therefore, it would behoove the universities to develop this otherwise untapped resource. 

Further, in last week’s edition of Sports Illustrated, a columnist aptly paralleled a player's salary to “winnings from a lottery ticket.”  The money can be easily squandered, if not careful, or even stolen by people that should not be trusted. 

Thus, a solid “Athletic Studies” curriculum could prove to be a more valuable recruiting tool than the tactics employed by UConn (above). 

Please, "NC-double [expletive]," quit spreading hypocritical lies about ‘amateur’ sports.  Granted, your commercials that feature, among other double-threats, someone juggling a soccer ball while playing a stringed instrument are quite entertaining. 

However, everyone stands to benefit by removing the stigma surrounding the term ‘scholar-athlete.’  Sports is no less viable as a career path than Music Performance, Chemistry, or any other established field of study.