The sheer volume of money flowing to the NCAA and its member schools and conferences buttresses the argument that college athletes are exploited pawns who deserve a cut.
“The NCAA is losing power already to conference commissioners,” said Murray Sperber, college professor and author of the seminal books College Sports Inc. and Beer and Circus. “If players get paid, out goes 90 percent of the NCAA rulebook.”
Not only is the NCAA under threat by talk of super conferences breaking free of its command, but by Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit for compensation and growing public opinion in favor of pay for athletes.
“The older generation would like to keep the romantic idea of a small-town kid like Damon Bailey becoming a college hero at Indiana — which is an illusion anyway,” said Sperber, who formerly taught at Indiana and is now at California-Berkeley. “The younger generation says, ‘Well, Division I athletes are practically pros now so why not grant them that status?’ ”
The belief that athletes are used while being denied their piece of the profit makes it easier to look the other way when a booster such as Shapiro gives gifts or assistant football coach Clint Hurtt drives recruits to Shapiro’s house so they can use his jet skis and go clubbing on his tab. When Chris Webber complained that he couldn’t afford a hamburger, his free meals (and thousands in money) from a booster could be seen as rightful rewards.
As the NCAA loses its influence, so does the compunction to be clean: If our rivals are skirting the impossibly complicated, outdated rules, so must we to keep up with them.
Thus there are fans like the minority at UM, upset more at the NCAA than at the conduct of athletes and coaches.
“Of all the schools who are not victims, Miami is at the front of the line not only because they knew the rules but because they’ve been through this drill several times before,” said Sperber, who wasn’t surprised about reaction to the NCAA’s latest report. “College sports is one of the most dysfunctional and illogical institutions in America. It makes no sense.”
Damage to UM’s teams by the NCAA taint will soon come to an end, and it starts Saturday when No.7 UM plays Wake Forest, finally free from the cloud. But damage to UM’s reputation should not be glossed over, Sperber said. College sports can bring both types of attention.
“When Bob Knight was winning with upstanding programs, the university got lots of positive publicity, but when he went crazy and choked players, IU bled crimson,” Sperber said. “Miami’s NCAA cases have hurt. It went from Suntan U. to Dr. Dre U. to this present scandal. Miami is a wonderful, respected academic institution, but your average American didn’t hear that when the football team got in trouble again.
“The difference is that a lot of people in Miami were not morally outraged by kids on yachts and in strip clubs.”
The question is, whether it’s Miami or Stillwater, if the NCAA is a laughingstock, do its rules really count?