If you’re not on Twitter, then you might have missed it. On Tuesday, August 6, ESPN’s own former Duke Blue Devil went all in against the NCAA. For years, the powers that be at NCAA Headquarters have insisted that the NCAA does not profit off the student athletes under its jurisdiction. It has always been an odd coincidence that the replica jerseys that are for sale around the basketball arenas and football stadiums always seem to match current star players. Or that on the now defunct and wildly popular NCAA videogames (produced by EA sports), the players on the screen not only had similar numbers to current players, but also looked an awful lot like them too. Coincidence? I think not. On Tuesday afternoon, around 2:00 Eastern, Mr. Bilas began tweeting out screenshots of the NCAA’s own apparel website, ShopNCAASports.com , showing that when you search for individual student athlete’s names, you’re directed to the replica jersey of their team and their specific number. By around 4:00, the IT folks at NCAA had removed the search function on the website, but by then the damage had been done. Mr. Bilas, in his limited capacity, had stood up and figuratively yelled that the emperors at the NCAA were wearing no clothes and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
For the past few years, the NCAA has been trying to maintain the status quo when it was no longer possible. The money involved in college athletics has become too great. It’s no longer feasible to demand that a star athlete be happy with room, board and tuition when his actual cut of the pie is much larger. As Chris Webber pointed out when he was a member of the Michigan’s popular “Fab Five” in the early 1990s, “I walk past the bookstore selling my jersey and I don’t have enough cash in my pocket to by one.” Even if you’re against paying the athletes, which most people are, how many people would be happy just to have their college education paid for when they’re value to the university is so much more? It’s inherently un-American to force someone to work, which is what being a Division 1 athlete is, for so far below their far market value. And that’s how we get the majority of the scandals that NCAA finds itself facing year after year. When you don’t compensate your workers fairly, you create a black market that you can’t possibly hope to control.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, is just the most recent example of a young man that has decided that he’s going to get his. The university sold a table at the team’s kickoff dinner, where Manziel would be seated, for $20,000. And it now appears that the NCAA his investigating claims that he sold his own signature for $7500. This just begs the question, who is getting over on who? And we can pretend, as the NCAA does that the athletes get compensated for what they get, but if a music major on full scholarship can moonlight and make extra money playing on the weekends or the full ride art major can work on paid, commissioned pieces of art, how can we say that the athletes can’t get a bigger piece of the pie that they help create?
The NCAA is a dinosaur of a bureaucratic institution. The rules, that haven’t been changed in years, make no sense when applied to the world as it is in 2013. The perception that the rules aren’t enforced equally and without bias is held universally by almost everyone, the fans, the student athletes, the coaches and the administrators of the member institutions. Partly, the NCAA isn’t to blame. Without legally binding subpeona powers, the NCAA is essentially powerless to compel anyone, save for current players and coaches, to speak to it or cooperate with its investigations. So we’re left with a situation where the most powerful entity in college athletics is only as good as the information that it can piece meal from other sources, be it legal investigations or investigations by media outlets. And even then, there’s a feeling as if the NCAA turns a blind eye and deaf ear to institutions and schools that are somehow in its good graces. How does the NCCA continue to look away from the academic scandal at North Carolina, yet look at Kentucky’s own Eric Bledsoe’s high school transcripts, only to realize that there’s nothing there?