Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gaming The System Is Easy When You Make The Rules.

Most of your intelligent college football and basketball fans are entirely cognizant of the hypocrisy necessary at the highest levels of the NCAA in order to perpetuate the belief in "amateurism" in its two most lucrative sports. Now, lawyers for all D-I college football and basketball players want to challenge that practiced hypocrisy in an L.A. courtroom come June. As Lester Munson writes for SI, the question is whether the NCAA has illegally fixed that cost of a scholarship beneath the actual cost of a college education.

Lawyers representing all Division I football and basketball players (there are 11,500 of them) claim that the athletes are shortchanged an average of $2,500 a year because of an arbitrary NCAA limit on scholarships.

If they're right, the athletes are entitled under anti-trust laws to triple damages, a potential liability for the NCAA of more than $86 million for a single year. If the trial includes four years of scholarships, as the players' lawyers suggest, the damage multiplies to $344 million. The NCAA's annual budget is $465 million.

That is a staggering amount of money to be considering as an ultimate payout in damages, and even if limited by a judge afterwards, it would still be a sizable amount out of the NCAA's budget, never mind profits. The haggling point is what is called a "grant-in-aid," or GIA -- to sum up what it actually consists of, think of everything you ever bought while at school that was not included as tuition or room and board: laundry, travel expenses, incidental expenses, and as most college graduates remember least fondly when it comes to the wallet, text books.

The NCAA's Elsa Cole defends the GIA limit like this: in essence, removing the cap provides another recruitment tool for schools to use in attracting players -- by offering to pay their expenses, supplies, and books, we remove the "amateur" from the ideal of student-athlete, since better-off schools will offer to pay that ENTIRE way as another carrot to attract the top blue-chippers.

The problem for the NCAA is that even president Myles Brand has admitted the cap should go, and a former head addresses it in even starker terms:

The NCAA's reliance on the protection of amateurism is a familiar riff. Walter Byers, the former executive director of the NCAA, dismissed it: "Collegiate amateurism is not a moral issue. It is an economic camouflage for monopoly practice."

Ultimately, this monopolistic practice, like most others given to sporting organizations, is based on the appearance of providing a public service of sorts, in its own way. The problem for the NCAA, regardless of how the lawsuit pans out, is that the school presidents and the athletic directors are well trained to repeat the mantra and myth of the "student-athlete" in these two money sports while shoveling the cash in their pockets. Now, if there is any sort of karma, they will have to share.

The NCAA is the reason why I have never blamed players or coaches who bend or flex the arcana that the organization calls "rules." They are forced to fight for their jobs, their starting spots, and their basic livelihoods in a world they had no part in creating.


YL Adam said...

In my mind, the NCAA is one of the premier antitrust violations in the country. The fact that the continue to exist bothers me to no end.

Signal to Noise said...

I don't mind their existence so much as I mind the BS front required to say "amateur" and "college football" or "college basketball" with a straight face.

The NCAA is made up of the worst combinations of academia and jockdom: the huffy, stuffy know-it-all egotism that permeates most professors at large universities mixed with the more sadistic aspects of the athletes you knew in either high school or college that basically lived their lives, not as a person, but in their status as "athlete."