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The NCAA’s Problems Are America’s Problems, Too

If the allegations made by Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports last week came out three years ago, fans and sports media would be up in arms, with incessant coverage about who knew what, how it went down and, most importantly, who was to blame.

If the allegations made by Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports last week came out three years ago, fans and sports media would be up in arms, with incessant coverage about who knew what, how it went down and, most importantly, who was to blame.

The reaction in this day and age was a shoulder shrug, partly because this happens everywhere. In the last few years, we've seen examples from UGA (AJ Green), Miss St. (Cam Newton), USC (Reggie Bush, Pete Carroll), Alabama (DJ Fluker), Tennessee (Lane KiffinMo Couch), LSU (Tyrann Mathieu) Miami (everyone), UNC (academic), FSU (online courses), and Oregon (weed), just to name a few. Though Oklahoma State had all of these rolled into one, it's certainly possible that other schools had more going on than they were caught doing.

Rumors circle almost every Top 25 program, laying in the cut as whispers in the underground. If SI had a mole at any number of programs, they probably would have found something similar.

The main revelation from the breaking news that we didn't care anymore. The NCAA system is so broken that, what should be one of its biggest scandals yet, barely raises an eyebrow. Perhaps more of us watched He Got Game, or perhaps it's hard to muster up emotions in the wake of Jerry Sandusky.


Still, SI had several notable paragraphs, which did not, in my humble opinion, receive nearly enough attention. In our clicks-for-money era of internet journalism, apparently, the sex, money and drugs sells a lot more than advocating for serious and necessary reform. Rather than focus on the broken system, the report largely focused on the bottom rung of the ladder, the student-athletes.


As is usually the case, the proletariat class has little voice in the matter and are exploited by the bourgeois for massive profits. Stories like these paint the working class as bad people, breaking the rules, and greedy, ignoring the fact that many grew up on the wrong side of a system that often fails to provide ample opportunity due to vast income inequality. These themes are woven throughout SI's breakdown, even if they aren't always explicit. Let's take a look.

PART ONE: The Money

In January 2012, the NCAA delayed implementation of a $2,000 expense allowance for scholarship athletes, and a group working on a new proposal has been unable to generate one. For the foreseeable future the money that many, including NCAA president Mark Emmert, acknowledge that athletes need to cover their full cost of attendance, will remain stuck in committee.


At Oklahoma State the bonus system, the booster and coach payouts, and the bogus jobs provided players with money that was seldom spent on extravagances. One or two standouts bought a new car or expensive jewelry, team members say, but the vast majority of the players used the extra cash to purchase everyday items — food, clothing, tickets to a movie. "There were some athletes who were almost starving," says Carter. "Wherever the money came from, they were like, Yeah, I'll take that."

This paragraph rings true and echoes what AJ Green said about selling his jersey (he sold it to go on spring break). Many students on college football teams come from lower class backgrounds, where they are often unprepared for college academics (see below), would otherwise struggle to eat or pay rent if it weren't for the college, and, because of that, some players' best chance to escape that hole is NFL football. In any case, rich or poor, players aren't allowed to make money, so unless someone's bankrolling them, they're limited to the campus, weight rooms, classes and dorms, all in their supposed time to be curious and learn about the world.


If the NCAA really wants to prepare student-athletes for the real world, they should let them make their own business deals to find out how cut and dry life really is. Maybe there should be annual contracts in the NCAA so someone on a college campus might actually learn how to negotiate a raise. If the NCAA allowed student-athletes to profit from their own name, like selling autographs or jerseys, they would soon learn the value of their self-worth – a better alternative to the ego-boosting, lesson-free method of receiving illicit bonus payments after a big tackle (which only teaches the value of a tackle).

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The fact of the matter is that the money is there and players will get it one way or another. If it's legal, it can be used as a learning opportunity, but it's not, and the NCAA looks a bit like an episode of Boardwalk Empire (minus the murder).

 

PART TWO: Academics

Terry Henley, an academic adviser for football since 2000, denies the players' allegations that he scheduled them in easy classes and steered them to majors, but concedes that academics weren't a priority for Miles. "There was never pressure [to cheat], but Miles was like most coaches who want to be somewhere else," said Henley. "They're going to do what they need to do for two or three years, and they're not going to have to deal with whatever the fallout is. So, no, he didn't promote academics." 

The fact that the NCAA only punishes it's working class members, the ones actually creating the product, allows coaches to ignore the NCAA's rules. It's no different that Wall Street bankers doing cocaine because cops don't come in the rich part of town, nor do they get prosecuted for things like destroying the entire world economy. At worst, you do a minimum security bid (like what Bruce Pearl is doing after getting the boot at Tennessee). At best, you become the head coach at major program, win a national title and flirt with the NFL (or NBA). Call it the Calipari Corollary.



Related: I bet Les Miles bumps Shaggy's “It Wasn't Me” on the reg.


With that said, what we should focus on here is the shoddy education that exists for underprivileged children. Why aren't they prepared for college? Why can't some of them read? Why did Terry Henley, one of the least powerful components of this “scandal”, feel the need to push kids towards easy classes (which happens everywhere, by the way, including Stanford)?

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It's much easier to blame college coaches for overlooking rules than to address the fact that the US education system is successful based on the income level of the surrounding neighborhoods, and right now that arrangement overwhelmingly favors white people. That might be why most ADs, SIDs, coaches and administrators are one color, while the players on the field are mostly another.

 

PART THREE: The Drugs

Defensive end William Bell told SI that he was a "borderline pothead" when he arrived as a freshman in 2004 and that he quickly learned he was not alone. He saw an opportunity and began bringing marijuana from his hometown of Belton, Texas, to Stillwater, selling blunts for $10 and quarter ounces for $30. "I kept Bennett Hall hot," he says of the dormitory in which he and other athletes lived.


Do they really sell $30 quarters at OSU?!?! I'm not sure if I believe this. Someone from Oklahoma, other than Thayer Evans, who I'm not even sure has ever been offered weed, will have to verify. But seriously, SI went on to name 30 players who admitted to using marijuana (lol) over 11 years. Even counting the 20 others the admitted users named during that time amounts to a small percentage. OSU has 129 players on official roster just this year. If they bring in about 30 new players each season, we're talking about maybe 15 percent of players. Meanwhile, 21 percent of college-aged students admitted to smoking weed (that's better, isn't it?) and 65 percent Millennials think marijuana should be legalized.

As for booze, the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse estimates that virtually every college student will experience the effects of alcohol one way or another, and 1 in 10 high school seniors will engage in "extreme binge-drinking" this year. It's the grown ups who need to catch up with the kids on this one. When will we finally learn that prohibition, as a whole, fails?

 

PART FOUR: Sex

Oklahoma State not only kept Orange Pride intact, but by 2004, multiple sources told SI, the group also became a key contributor to the program's rise. Membership in the organization more than tripled; there was a greater emphasis on attracting prettier and more outgoing women; and more than a dozen Cowboys who played from 2001 to '11 told SI that a small number of Orange Pride members had sexual relations with them or with other prospects during recruiting visits. According to the former hostesses who spoke to SI, the vast majority did not have sex with recruits. But for those who did, it proved to be an effective inducement.


OMG SOME HOT COLLEGE GIRLS HOOKED UP WITH FOOTBALL PLAYERS. Please. This could be slanted as a mild version of prostitution, but considering the vast majority of girls did not participate in this, I'd guess there wasn't any instruction to hook up with players. If there was, that's shameful, but what we're probably talking about is your basic groupies. It happens in all walks of life and there probably isn't much a coach can do to stop it; it would happen whether or not there was an Orange Pride group. Again, SI confirmed about 12 players over 11 years. We're not talking about Eliot Spitzer here.


 

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PART FIVE: The Fallout

SI's 10-month investigation into the rise of the Cowboys' football program uncovered illicit payments, widespread academic fraud, a negligent drug policy and a double standard of treatment based on performance. Perhaps most alarming: the disregard the program showed for players once their services were no longer deemed necessary. Too often the discourse about corruption in college sports revolves around the players' ill-gotten gains — cash handouts, no-show jobs, free sneakers or tattoos. Lost in the discussion: the pain suffered by many of those same players, who leave school feeling hurt, used and abandoned.

This is the most important paragraph of the whole shebang, and precisely why players should receive a part of the multi-billion dollar pie. NCAA football players don't have a players union, much like most fast food chains don't allow their employees to organize, marginalizing the people creating the product and keeping them off the payroll. Jersey numbers are like employee numbers, encouraging impersonality with the labor so it's not as hard to let it go. When they're gone, the number simply gets passed along.

Meanwhile, the NCAA cracks down for such rule violations by punishing players who were not involved in whatever scandal happened to occur (like Ohio State's bowl ban) and strengthening requirements to join. Apparently, the NCAA hasn't learned from the failed War on Drugs that crackdowns against poor people doesn't actually solve the problem; it merely covers it up. In the internet era, cover-ups are for schmucks.

The fact of the matter is, in America, if you come from money, the rules don't always apply (just ask Johnny Manziel's lawyer). If you don't, you'll take what you get and like it. The NCAA is simply the latest and most open example because people demand sports media with their clicks and ratings, meaning more money to hire journalists and pundits.



But any system that encourages silence, makes money from the poor and sees the rich get richer because of it must be reformed from the top down, not the bottom up.