The Shame of College Sports- a case against the NCAA

Submitted by denverblue on September 15th, 2011 at 12:35 PM

[Ed: PGB - Bumped for general awesomeness in the topic and the cerebral discussion that follows.  This is a very good example of why the MGoBoard is great.  Make sure to read the article before joining in on the discussion, if possible.]


Dr. Saturday linked to this (…) treatise on the NCAA suggesting it:

"may legitimately be the most important article ever written about college sports. If not, it's certainly the most comprehensive, tracing the history of the NCAA from its humble, impotent origins, and making the most convincing case yet that the organization is not only the bastion of an exploitive, plantation-like system that violates antitrust law, but may in fact be little more than a basketball tournament with an empty office building in Kansas City. (Also: It includes a former coach describing his profession as "whoremaster.")"

I haven't read the whole thing yet (because I'm not one of those speed-readers), but it's both very well written and researched, and I thought it would be good to disseminate it to the masses for consumption and discussion.



September 15th, 2011 at 12:38 PM ^

This whole thing is pretty devestating. As someone who has been pretty anti-NCAA for some time, this makes me question if College Athletics is something I should even morally support.

Waters Demos

September 15th, 2011 at 1:02 PM ^

Competition is an integral part of education.  There would be a stronger basis for moral objection if the proposal was to do away with competition altogether.

Howeva, the money, the TV deals, etc... have nothing to do with education.

Much as I love it (and I do just like the rest of you), we watch "paid" mercenaries on fall Saturdays.  And there are legitimate grounds for feeling some moral uncertainty in watching them play while knowing what we now know about the system they participate in.

But I do like the opportunities these kids get, and some of them may never get such opportunities otherwise. 


September 15th, 2011 at 1:42 PM ^

at all to watching Denard Robinson have the time of his life, players diving into each other's arms and celebrating with a crowd of 115,000 people who worship them for the happiness brought to their lives.  I only wish I could have been blessed with such an opportunity.

There is corruption in college athletics and the system is far from perfect.  Some profit more than they should and others not as much.  Pay the players cost of attendance and buy them their bus ticket if they need one.  But don't give me that article.  That is a sensationalized one-sided peice hellbent on getting a reaction.

Tell Denard he is being ripped off after what he felt on Saturday night.  I bet he will tell you that you are wrong.


September 15th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

never gets the rush, he gets compensated instead.   Whatever pittance that investment banker gets for the merger is not even in the same conversation as what Denard Robinson is experiencing.

These are still kids, and they are having the time of their lives.  That article assumes that the vast majority of college athletes are not exactly where they want to be.  It would have you believe that the high school star from Tuscolusa thinks of the indignity of having to play for the Crimson Tide one day, and how exploited he is going to be.  It simply is not the case. 

NCAA is evil is all the rage right now.  I am not buying it, and quite frankly I am tired of hearing it.


September 15th, 2011 at 2:00 PM ^

Your ability to emphatise is truly remarkable.

But, in all seriousness, dismissing this article out of hand is ridiculous. No one has ever corraled the argument against the current state of college athletics quite like Brach has here, and it is utterly damning in its scope and specificity. To argue for the status quo after reading that article is heartless and mendacious since it is providing support for what is very aptly described as an illegal plantation system specifically designed to rob people of their rights.


September 15th, 2011 at 2:04 PM ^

So if you were to put together a merger between Google and Wal-Mart tomorrow, you wouldn't feel accomplished? I would feel much more accomplished than I ever could playing sports (though I admit I haven't performed in front of 114,000). And he gets the paycheck as well.

As far as still being kids, what if an 18-19-20 year old improved on Velcro or found a new energy solution? I'd love to see 3M or BP say, "sorry kid, you're not getting paid, but at least you got to play in the big time." 

As far as being where they want to be, they're in the best place they can be. It doesn't make the system any more moral.


September 15th, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

These players aren't inventing new things, they are playing football.  None of these players invented the forward pass and you certainly would have a hard time being paid for that anyways.

I'd compare them to interns.  They do work (and in this case, the interns would do a lot more work than usual) and get paid minimally in order to increase a chance of moving up in the world.  Some might be better than others and can move on quicker from the company/college but others stay put for awhile.



September 15th, 2011 at 4:00 PM ^

They're just like any other employee to ABC/ESPN or Adidas. They take brand value and increase it. Denard "creates" shoe sales, TV ratings, and the like. Obviously it's not perfectly comparable to a goods industry, but they are high powered service employees.

On top of that, it doesn't matter what their chances of moving up are. Denard might never play one snap at QB in the NFL, and it doesn't diminish his value today. Compare that to an intern, who usually is given employment to compete to see if they can be of value to a company.

For some reason people don't want to acknowledge it, but Denard is worth more to UM than most posters here are worth to their companies. Starting for three years, I wouldn't be surprised if he could become a millionaire with endorsement deals, appearances and the like, because of his name recognition and highlight reels.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:21 PM ^

is that interns work alongside established professionals. For Denard to be an intern, he'd need to be on Detroit's practice squad or something like that.

This is more like kids running a lemonade stand ... except the kids don't run it, they just work there, and their stand gives Sonic a run for its money.

Waters Demos

September 15th, 2011 at 2:11 PM ^

That rush won't put food on the table.

The sad fact is that most football and basketball players struggle academically and thus have difficulty marketing themselves to employers, and hope to be drafted but never will be.

And then what are they left with?  A rush 4 years ago?  Some youtube highlights?


September 15th, 2011 at 2:13 PM ^

from that athlete.  The scenario you present is a good but not great athlete that struggles with academics, wants to make it to the pros but falls short, and is left with nothing more than the experience of playing athletics at the college level.  What is he out?  What has he been deprived of?  it may be that the experience of playing college athletics is the best memory that he has.  Literally, the time of his life.

Waters Demos

September 15th, 2011 at 2:17 PM ^

"Bottom line: Denard creates value. Denard gets a pittance of the value he creates so that it can go to people he's likely never met."

And if Denard struggles academically (I have no idea about this - he may be an academic all american for all I know, but this is just an example), and then doesn't get drafted (again, he may be drafted, but this is an example), he's left with "the time of his life" memories while the university and the corporations it deals with are left with the millions he produced.

It's interesting, BTW, that college athletes are forced to sign away their rights of publicity by the NCAA to even be able to compete.  What do you make of that?


September 15th, 2011 at 4:00 PM ^

BOOM!  And that, folks, is the essence of the argument.  Young men being disenfranchised to play a sport they love and that gives many of them the opportunity to attend a school that they might not otherwise be able to attend, as well as play that sport professionally.  Remember, these kids cannot play professionally without first being out of high school at least 2 years (?).  In other words, they are forced to play in college in order to play pro.  And for those two years, they are forced to allow institutions of higher learning to profit off of their likeness and the goodwill they generate during that time without arms-length consideration.  At least that's how the argument goes. Sure, they could skip all that and take some other kind of job.  But do we really want to make that counter-argument??



September 15th, 2011 at 4:29 PM ^

He is not a free agent. He "works" for the school. And without the school, without the college game, his name and likeness would have zero value. So in exchange for that, he or any giant athlete in college has adulation on campus and for life, $50,000 a year in compensation while in school, priceless alumni contacts made in school, the ability to play on a stage that no one else has, and in the case of most famous athletes, an NFL future. He knows all of this before playing. And eagerly signs up for it.

I'm not against, at all, finding a way to give athletes more money (for one, the so called "cost of full attendance" idea is good). But the moralizing, overheated metaphors and comparisons, and outrage is really silly. For every Denard, there are 80 athletes per team that get priceless and unduplicated benefits from this supposedely "immoral" system.


September 15th, 2011 at 4:31 PM ^

You are thinking the same way I used to before reading the article.  My thought process what that the ability to play the sport and attend college because of it is awesome enough in and of itself that there should be no complaining.  However, if you take that position, then professional athletes should not have unions or legal representatives either.  But those are both allowed and are extremely powerful.  So the question remains:  Why are college athletes denied rights that people in all other professions are allowed (in fact, many college interns are able to join trade unions and are also entitled to workers compensation coverage from their employer (I think)).



September 15th, 2011 at 4:34 PM ^

Why can't you address the actual topic of the article:

Why does this need to involve him essentially ceding the right to legal representation?

If he is "working" for the school, why can he not claim worker's comp for "on the job" accidents? Why does medical treatment for them stop at a certain point?

If it is "employment", why is the agreement, the LOI - binding to the athlete (he pays a penalty of a year for breaking it), but esentially at-will for the school (they can dismiss him without cause at any time).

Why is he not allowed to do with his personal property as he wishes?

The argument isn't that they don't willingly enter into the agreement - the argument is that doesn't make what the NCAA is doing right.


September 15th, 2011 at 4:49 PM ^

As long as we limit the argument to what you've just stated, I'm in nearly total agreement.

Once we start getting into direct compensation from the school to the athletes, it gets thornier - primarily because, apart from a few superstars in revenue sports at big schools, the vast majority of scholarship athletes are significantly over-compensated. The schools lose money on them and their scholarship values are higher than equivalent minor-league sports salaries.

I think the players should have more rights and representation, but presumably Title IX would prevent universities from compensating players based on their value to the university.

Waters Demos

September 15th, 2011 at 4:53 PM ^

For all these reasons, I see it as an issue of legal unconscionability.

Procedural unconscionability basically involves contracts of adhesion - those terms offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis (check - the kids have to sign away their rights or they don't play).

Substantive unconscionability involves terms that are unfairly harsh or one sided.  Check?  The things you point out suggest so IMHE. 

But the LOI, etc... aren't even seen in terms of a binding agreement in the ordinary sense, as I understand it, because it only binds one party.  Which only adds to the unconscionability argument IMHE.

Athlete: "You can't revoke my scholarship - we had an agreement."

University: "No we didn't."

[Athlete wants transfer]

University: "Penalty - sit out a year."

Athlete: "Says who?"

University: "Our agreement that you signed."

Kinda fucked up IMHE.


September 15th, 2011 at 5:34 PM ^

It's not his personal property--it has no value other than the athlete's participation in the school sport. The "dismiss him at any time" is a strawman argument (unless you go to LSU)--but I do agree it should run both ways. Regarding employment and medical expenses--almost every worker in America, even CEO's, have coverage for medical treatment "stop at a certain point." I see nothing inherently immoral with that--but again, would not be against covering even more. 


September 15th, 2011 at 3:59 PM ^

The sad fact is that most football and basketball players struggle academically and thus have difficulty marketing themselves to employers

I'm not sure how true this is - at least, at a school with a huge alumni base like ours. So much about getting a job comes down to connections. If you're an ex-Michigan player, someone out there in the alumni base will probably give you some kind of a job if you need one down the road.

Waters Demos

September 15th, 2011 at 4:30 PM ^

My comment was more general than just about M players.  I knew one player at MSU who told me that former players came back regularly to talk to the current players about the importance of the academic side of things  because they had themselves fallen on hard times when they weren't drafted.  All signs point to the current players ignoring these warnings, particularly the kids who were at risk academically to begin with. 

And in many cases, it's not clear that it would make any difference even if they did take school seriously .  Many of them just don't have the skill set to perform academically.  Additionally, the coordinators often "suggest" that kids go into some meaningless and unmarketable subject to keep them eligible (remember that "general studies" article about M a few years back?).  The player I referenced earlier wanted to study political science, but the coordinators kept him in sociology.  And if that's true at MSU, what reason is there to believe it's not generally true most places?

BTW - what is your take on the NCAA stripping athletes of their rights of publicity and representation before they can compete?


September 15th, 2011 at 12:48 PM ^

but prepare to be pissed off about it. Everything the NCAA does is self serving. There's no legit reason for there to be 1-year scholarships and that to be an NCAA rule. The thing made me hate the NCAA even more than I already do, and it didn't even touch on people who abuse the system, just the system itself.

It's definitely worth your time


September 15th, 2011 at 4:04 PM ^

Conversely, is there any legitimate reason to give out athletic scholarships in the first place?  The United States is the only country in the world where that happens.  I've tried to explain the whole concept of big-time college sports to people in Europe, and they can't follow.  It makes no sense to them that universities (including some very prestigious ones) field these high-level sports teams.

I have a hard time buying the "exploitation" argument, because for the vast majority of collegiate athletes, it's a great deal.  As the NCAA reminds us ad nauseum, "most will go pro in something other than sports."  Prior to that, they get their education paid for (at least in part), and what's more, many get to attend universities that would not admit them otherwise.  There is just a small handful of superstars (like Denard) for whom it's not an equitable deal.  And even for him, he's probably guaranteed some kind of a job for life by virtue of being a Michigan football star.  Someone in our alumni network will hire him.


September 15th, 2011 at 4:19 PM ^

Just commenting on the first part of your comment, the university system in the US is very different than most in Europe. The curriculum in an English or French school more closely resembles graduate school in the US (not in difficulty, but in focus) than it does our (mostly) liberal arts model. Another difference would be extracurricular activities and admissions standards; from my understanding, Oxbridge and other European universities couldn't care less about anything not directly relating to academic study. It's quite different here. 

If I were an anthropologist and knew the differences between the two educational models, I wouldn't be surprised to see that we field high level sporting events connected to universities and Europe does not.


September 15th, 2011 at 4:49 PM ^

Canada's educational system is very similar to ours, but they don't give out $100-200,000 scholarships to students for playing sports.  It's hard to come up with a plausible explanation as to why we do this.  It just kind of happened.  For the more than 99% of college athletes who aren't marketable stars in the least, it's an incredible deal: get admitted to a prestigious university you probably weren't qualified for, get all kinds of academic assistance to help you through it, and do it all for free (or at least a partial scholarship).  It's only a crappy deal for the less than 1% that truly aren't maximizing their marketing value in college.  Even then it basically just applies to college football, since in all other sports there are viable alternatives.


September 15th, 2011 at 11:10 PM ^

I wrote up a reply on my phone, but apparently my 4G service is not as good as advertised.

Canada, while more "American" than GB, is still a Commonwealth country. Their government structure and culture is influenced by Europe more than the US is, IMO. Also, Canadian collegiate athletics wouldn't work like they do in the US as there are far fewer schools large enough to support even MAC level sports. Canada only has 35 colleges with an enrollment over 10,000.

I agree about scholarships being good deals for the vast majority of college athletes (in fact I'm not in favor of schools paying athletes). 

biakabutuka ex…

September 15th, 2011 at 12:57 PM ^

I couldn't stop reading it once I started. I think the ugliest part was where it says that the NCAA will punish a school for obeying the courts, if it benefits an athlete, if the ruling later gets changed or overturned. That would prevent a school from basically ever obeying the courts for fear of reprisal.

"the NCAA threatens schools with sanctions if they obey 
any temporary court order benefiting a college athlete, 
should that order eventually be modified or removed"

Am I reading this correctly? How is this even the slightest bit legal?

03 Blue 07

September 16th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

I don't think it is. I mean, yes, it's a contract that the member school signed to be a part of a private organization- the NCAA. That's the argument FOR enforcement.

The arguments against...well, there's the contract of adhesion aspect, but  the member schools are not (in my view) as at a disadvantage, bargaining-wise, as the student-athletes, but still, contra proferentum, so that "contract" would be construed strictly against the drafter (NCAA). Also, it sure as hell seems like the NCAA would and should be squarely in contempt of court, but then you think: the NCAA isn't performing an affirmative act in violation of the court order; it is the school itself, for fear of future NCAA reprisal. And the NCAA's "policy" also inherently mimics the structures of the appellate system: if an order is overturned/modified/removed, then by definition its legal effect is at best no longer necessary. More likely it has been nullified by a higher authority on appeal, thus invalidating its legal operation. But...let's say there are appeals, the ruling is upheld, and the school held the kid out of competition as a precaution. There seems like there could be a cause of action for some sort of damages against the school by the student-athlete (what type, though? loss in future earnings? damages, generally, in such a suit could be difficult) or, perhaps by the school against the NCAA (though I'm sure there's a clause in that same NCAA agreement that the school can't sue the NCAA) for some sort of lost revenue that it could trace to holding that player/players out of competition.

Well, I've talked myself in circles here. But there are clearly a lot of legal angles, and ChitownBlue2's analysis is spot on; it's about rights, certain ones are supposed to be fundamental and constitutional in the United States.



September 15th, 2011 at 12:59 PM ^

Why is no one clamoring for high school football players to be paid?  They put in just as much time and effort into what they do, and people buy tickets to go to high school games.  Is the only difference the amount of money made by the institutions (high schools vs universities?)

I'm not trying to support an opinion one way or another, just thought it was an interesting question.