Shame of the NCAA

I agree with Tom Sorensen’s piece in the Oct. 27 News & Observer that college athletes should be paid.

Paying student-athletes seems like the right thing to do. After all, how is a student-athlete’s work at his or her sport any different from that of a work-study student, except the work-study student gets paid?

But I would go farther and address the basic issue of fairness. How about giving the student-athletes some representation on the decision-making boards of the NCAA as well as on the governing boards of the athletic conferences and the colleges and universities? Right now, the student-athletes just work there, but have no student representative who has a say in policies and other decisions that directly affect them.

Taylor Branch has written a provocative article that appeared in the October issue of The Atlantic. In the article “The Shame of College Sports,” Branch, who wrote a three-volume biography of Martin Luther King Jr. that garnered a Pulitzer Prize, cites the money issue – the athletes who bring in the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the NCAA and the universities but don’t get a penny of that loot.

And the organizations that profit from the work of the student-athletes – and these student-athletes work at their sport year round, as anyone who’s been to a UNC football team practice in April can attest – can take away scholarships and titles whenever they want, for the flimsiest of reasons.

Fairness and democratic representation are key points of Branch’s argument. No student-athletes sit on the bodies that make decisions that affect the athletes’ lives – the university boards, athletic panels and NCAA boards decide when and how games will be played, not the students. Student issues don’t come up unless there’s a “scandal” attached to them. More often than not the student is punished while the coaches and school go untouched. The powerful stay powerful, and the weak get pushed around.

The NCAA is supposed to protect student-athletes, but its history is one of protecting big conferences and schools and, most of all, the money machine that excludes the student-athletes in the name of keeping “amateurism” pure. The NCAA fought long and hard to keep students injured on the playing field from collecting disability pay. It has only recently started to ensure that scholarships remain with the students who signed on with certain schools. And the rules that the organization enforces – petty things such a whether cream cheese can be served with bagels during practice – almost always wind up directed at the students, not the universities.

Those with great power dictate what goes on in college sports, be it the NCAA or the big schools. When they start looking after the well-being of students rather than the money machine, then this corrupt system will become a whole lot healthier for everyone. When the schools and students come together to make decisions in a democratic way that benefits everyone, then the NCAA will become even more irrelevant than it already is.

–Don Evans

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  1. Mark Marcoplos

     /  October 28, 2011

    Great piece – totally agree. And the fact that these athletes are forbidden from working part-time jobs to earn a little money is absurd.

  2. Augustus Cho

     /  October 28, 2011

    Agree…well articulated…