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Patrick Hruby

The Business of Punishing Amateurs

If the NCAA is about education, then why does it take away athletic scholarships?

Sports on Earth

Dear Mark Emmert,

It’s me. Again. With another open letter about your seeming cluelessness. Or obliviousness. In your case, that may be distinction without a difference. Maybe I should ask Twitter.

Anyway, here’s the issue. You are the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a union of schools that purports to serve the purposes of higher education by jointly making sure that Johnny Manziel doesn’t make a dime selling his autograph, unless said dime is pocketed by an athletic department. In arguing that your otherwise competitive member institutions should be allowed to ignore the Sherman Act, act as a cartel and fix the price of college athlete services at the value of room, board and tuition — a price-fix, it should be noted, that is not imposed on coaches, professors, other students or $1.7 million-a-year bureaucrats such as yourself — the NCAA claims that status quo amateurism increases educational opportunities. That many students benefit when the basic economic rights of some are denied, because every dollar not going to Manziel in a free market is a dollar that instead can fund a women’s lacrosse scholarship.

In fact, the NCAA’s talking points on the bid by Northwestern University football players to unionize makes this argument explicit. In a section titled The World with Student-Athlete Unions/Pay-for-Play, your own communication staff wrote the following about said scary, scary world:

* Athletics scholarships would be cut or eliminated.
* The number of championship experiences would be dramatically reduced.
* Smaller sports would lose funding.
* Support services of all kinds currently offered by athletics departments for students would be drastically affected — academic support, career counseling, tutoring — all cut significantly or eliminated entirely.
* Do we really want to signal to society and high school students that making money is the reason to come play a sport in college, as opposed to getting an education, which will benefit you for a lifetime? That’s not the message I want to send.

Guess what? We don’t have college athlete unions. Nor are NCAA athletes allowed to be paid by schools and boosters and sponsors who would otherwise be happy to give them money. Nevertheless, there’s an organization that already is cutting and eliminating scholarships; reducing championship experiences; limiting the amount of money that could otherwise be spent on academic support services; and generally sending the message that making money for coaches and administrators is the reason to come play a sports in college, as opposed to getting an education, which will benefit you for a lifetime, all of which is a message you probably don’t want to send, either.

That organization, of course, is the NCAA.

You know, the one you’re in charge of.

Last Friday, the NCAA levied a series of penalties against the University of Alaska-Anchorage for a pair of amateurism violations. First, former women’s basketball coach Tim Moser deposited $7,320 of his own money into the bank accounts of two of his players to cover their housing costs after promised “full-ride” scholarships did not materialize; second, a program booster paid for a van to take the team from their hotel to a tour of the White House and a visit with Alaska’s Congressional delegation, and also treated the team to dinner at the University of Virginia’s Rotunda.

Of course, having a place to live while you’re a student could be considered pro-education. As could a visits to the White House and Congress, as well as a nice dinner on a nice college campus. But still, rules are rules, and the bigger problem is how your underlings are enforcing them. Take a look at some of the penalties dished out to Alaska-Anchorage on your watch:

• The loss of roughly three-quarters of a full scholarship for the women’s basketball team. Coach Ryan McCarthy said the team’s 10 scholarships — the maximum allowed under NCAA rules — are currently spread among 15 players; now, the team will make do with 9.26 scholarships for one season.
• A two-year probationary period for the women’s basketball team, beginning this month. The Seawolves can still participate in postseason play, but if any more violations happen, sterner punishments will come.
• A $5,000 fine.

Remember your own pro-amateurism, anti-union talking points? Reduced scholarships. Less money for academic support. Potential loss of championship opportunities. If all of those things are bad, then why is the NCAA actively making them happen? Why is your organization making it harder for college athletes to afford educations and enjoy championship experiences?

Why would you punish the kind of economic activity you claim will diminish college sports by … diminishing college sports?

Look, Alaska-Anchorage is a Division-II school. Also, it’s in Alaska. So I can understand if this one slipped to the bottom of your inbox. You have more important things to do. Like staying away from Twitter. That said, this isn’t a one-time slip-up. It’s a pattern of bad behavior. It’s NCAA policy.

When a University of Miami booster hosted parties for players on his yacht, bought players and their families meals, handed out cash, airline tickets and hotel accommodations and even bought Christmas gifts for players’ children — no! The line must be drawn here! – your organization ordered the school’s football and basketball teams to award 12 fewer scholarships over a three-year period. That’s a dozen fewer young men getting a chance at an education that will benefit them for a lifetime! Similarly, the NCAA punished amateurism violations at the University of Southern California by taking away 30 scholarships over a three-year period while levying a two-year postseason bowl ban on the school’s football team.

Does any of that make sense?

A charitable observer might assume that you’re asleep at the wheel. A clever observer might wonder if your organization is oafishly trying to prove the proposition that pay-for-play will damage education by, you know, damaging education in response to underground pay-for-play. A skeptic might conclude that NCAA amateurism is inherently and irredeemably hypocritical, and that what it actually preserves and promotes is not additional educational opportunities for Division II women’s basketball players, but rather a system of economic control that steals from talented young men and benefits a cadre of self-serving toadies and rentier-class incumbents mouthing feel-good nonsense while gold-plating their fiefdoms and lining their pockets.

I know better. I know you know better. I know that as soon as you read this, you’ll realize that punishing amateurism violations by revoking scholarships, limiting championship participation and otherwise making it harder for athletes to attend school and enjoy their time there is not only completely insane and self-defeating, but also runs contrary to the NCAA’s entire self-stated reasons for both violating antitrust law and existing in the first place. Only don’t take my word for it. Listen to this guy:

… NCAA athletics one of the largest sources nationally of financial aid to college students. That financial support allows thousands of students to attend college who would not be able to do so otherwise. Today, access to college is a critical, life-changing experience. Collegiate athletics is an important way to provide that access …

You know who wrote those nice words about education and access and changing-lives? Mark Emmert. In the pages of the Omaha-World Herald. If you’re not going to bother with his columns, you should at least read his mail.


Patrick Hruby

Read the original article at Sports on Earth