Like most right-thinking American sport fans, I hate the NCAA. The NCAA alternates between evil and incompetent, and seems exist only to prove that the United Nations is not the most misguided bureaucratic nightmare ever conceived by man.
So, like everyone else, I enjoyed my moment of schadenfreude when the NCAA self-reported its own infractions by improperly using an attorney to gather evidence against Miami. The reason this is a big deal is that not only does the NCAA not have the subpoena power, it insists that having such a power would turn the infractions investigations process into an adversarial relationship.
Yeah, because it's so chummy right now.
Look, this is an obvious lie. Of course the NCAA investigation process is inherently adversarial. Programs, being competitive and being rewarded for winning, will do everything they can to win. Even if that means pushing the rules to their breaking point, and sometimes stepping over them. That's when the NCAA traffic cops slap the offenders with punishment. On its face, that's a logical system.
The problem is that the NCAA is trying to enforce a lie. I know it, you know it, the programs know it, and even the NCAA knows it. The central lie at the heart of nearly every NCAA probation is the fiction that these athletes are amateurs.
OK, the women's field hockey team is amateur. So are the cross-country teams. But college football? College football is a billion dollar industry, and that's under-reporting the revenues. ESPN purchased the TV rights for the new playoffs for $500 million a year. CBS secured the NCAA basketball tournament for $10.8 billion over 14 years. Let's not kid ourselves that this is not big business.
College sports, and football in particular, brings in huge money for the university. LSU profits off of the labor of the student-athlete, a creative term invented by the NCAA to justify not paying their workforce. The NCAA has thousands of rules designed essentially to do one thing: deny the athletes any compensation for their contribution to making this gigantic money machine operate.
When I went to LSU, I had a student job, and it wasn't nearly as high profile as representing the school on national television. You know what? I got paid. I didn't get paid much, but the university cut me a check for the hours I labored on its behalf. These football players put in untold hours of work, and what is their compensation? A scholarship? Room and board?
Let's not completely dismiss the value of a college education. A scholarship for free tuition has tremendous value, but once you agree that is just compensation, you've already conceded the argument. Players should get paid, the question is how much. Some will argue that a scholarship is enough, and maybe it is. But I when I go to Tiger Stadium, I see the university making tons of money on tickets, concessions, and merchandise. People sell these concessions. Other people direct parking. Some clean the stadium. Some coach in the game.
And everybody is getting a paycheck. Well, except for the people we are ostensibly coming to see. LSU makes millions off of its football team, and then the NCAA wants me to be outraged when a player wants a couple of bucks to spend? How dare they want their cut?
Look, I don't think players should be getting millions of dollars. But I also don't think a reasonable stipend for the workforce of a billion dollar industry is totally out of line. The NCAA is trying to enforce a phantom. There are no amateurs on that field, and it's time we all realized it.
It's not the NCAA is corrupt or incompetent, it is that they are charged with the impossible. It is not unethical that they tried to use the subpoena power to find out about players receiving compensation for their work. It is unethical and immoral that we deny athletes the right to profit from their labors, all while the universities and networks cash billion dollar paydays.
Let's stop avoiding the real issue: pay the players. Almost all of the "corruption" of college football goes away if players earned a reasonable paycheck for their work on what amounts to a student job. You're telling me we can't pay $10 an hour for 20 hours a week? Or fund a player stipend of, say, $2000 a semester for every student athlete? I'm not talking about NFL style contracts, just student workers getting just compensation for their labor.
I don't think that's too much to ask. ESPN just cut a huge check. Give some of it to the people actually doing the work.