NCAA Needs to Re-Evaluate How To Explain College Sports

NCAA Should Just Send Out a Flak Instead of Emmert to Explain How College Sports Should Work

By Evan Weiner

Perhaps the time has come for the presidents, chancellors, provosts, board of trustees and all others who run the National Collegiate Athletic Association to reign in the group’s leader and just send public relations flak to inform the public of what the Ivy Tower poker club denizen want to do to protect their fiefdom. The Ivy Tower’s handpicked choice to run their business Mark Emmert is doing the group no favors to holding news conferences and going on twitter.

The Ivy Tower group, which is comprised of very powerful people, after all they lead educational institution and some of them serve on various boards and can do things as a board member to influence what bank can be used on campus based on their connections. They cannot be too happy with Emmert public performance nor can they be thrilled that people are finally questioning the cartel and want to end today’s NCAA.

The Ed O’Bannon suit will go to trial and the NCAA will find out whether they hold a players’ likeness in perpetuity for promotional and financial reasons or if the athlete can regain control of his or hers likeness or face. Jeffrey Kessler, a long time sports attorney with ties to players associations, has filed an antitrust suit against the college group and the Northwestern University players have the right to unionize, a ruling that has sent shock waves in the Ivory Tower set.

Emmert is trying to make the case that all college athletes should be grateful that a school has chosen them to get an annual scholarship (which also has to be renewed annually like a contract a pro player might sign) and that athlete can get an education. But the athlete, called a “student-athlete” is there to play sports and sports comes first whether it is “voluntary” or “involuntary”. Not all “involuntary” off season drills are “involuntary”.

At one time, a scholarship for an education deal made sense when the TV money was nil. But TV money has warped out the industry and it is a professional industry where everyone is compensated except the players.

The NCAA does not want to wreck what appears to be a successful economic model for them. The word appears is very crucial because if you listen to college officials, sports really doesn’t make money for schools and most programs lose money. But if that is the case, why continue especially at state schools and one of the prime examples of that would be Rutgers in New Jersey where education has been on the chopping block while sports spending has escalated to incredible levels and that school’s basketball and football coaches are the highest paid state employees.

In the world of education, where school districts spending is now capped and cannot exceed a low percentage point increase over the year before, how are sports programs getting away with continued spending if indeed those said programs at breaking even or losing money?

That is something Emmert and the Ivy Tower club don’t speak much about.

It is true that college sports is under siege. The Jerry Sandusky/Penn State episode seems to have been forgotten. Penalties against the school have been eased but Emmert’s 2012 performance announcing the Penn State sanctions were and remain laughable.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating,” said the guy running the cartel known as the NC double A or the NJC2A. While Emmert was uttering his remarks, other big time college football programs were laying low until they got clearance to raid the Penn State football team. Emmert and his cohorts at the NCAA, an august group of college presidents, chancellors and provosts who seem far more interested in money-making adventures than education at their respective schools, then gave them the green light to pick apart the Penn State football carcass.

Penn State’s players could leave the school immediately without having to sit out a season and lose a year of football playing eligibility.

The vultures flew over the campus and took away players. You see, for big time college football schools, it is not about education, it is all about putting yourself in the position to win games and get to tax-exempt bowl games and collect big dollars to support what are money-losing sports programs.

There was a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the University of Georgia was seriously reviewing the merits of 19 Penn State players that might fit into that school’s football program. Eight players bolted for other programs including the then star running back Silas Redd. Penn State’s Big 10 conference business partners have decided the best way to help out is to waive Big 10 rules and let Penn State players join conference schools.

That is rather nice of the college presidents, provosts and chancellors who adhere to rules that limit the amount of money “student-athletes” can make from non-sports jobs and still cling to the notion of “student-athlete” which really is a term that is designed to keep athletes enrolled in a school from collecting workman’s compensation.

It was one-time NCAA President Walter Byers who came up with the term and a Colorado court give Byers and the NCAA legitimacy in the 1950s by ruling that Fort Lewis A&M was not in the football business. The case involved a Fort Lewis player, Ray Dennison who died from injuries suffered in a Fort Lewis game. Dennison’s widow sued for workman’s compensation.

She lost, the NCAA and member schools have been big winners for a half of a century.

Again the college poker club, the presidents, chancellors, provosts and trustees, has more important things to worry about than an athlete on a scholarship. They have to maximize that athlete’s value whether it is through TV contracts, ticket pricing, sponsorship and marketing partners or boosters.

Just in case you thought college football and college sports programs were built by industrious college innovators, brace yourself for a puncturing of a political talking point. College sports was built by someone else—the government.

The NCAA has roots in a 1905 Oval Office meeting between President Theodore Roosevelt and the presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton. College football was a brutal sport and 18 players died from injuries suffered on the field that year. There were calls to ban the game. A compromise was struck; the American Football Rules Committee was formed with the sole task of cleaning up the game.

Whether Roosevelt actually “saved” football is up for debate. The game still remains violent and there seems to be a pattern emerging of former players committing suicide at an alarming rate in the past few years. On the professional level, a judge threw out a potential settlement between National Football League owners and former NFL players that would have taken care of the health costs for some of the former players from injuries suffered in the professional. The NCAA should be bracing themselves for a similar class action suit. Presumably, the NFL and the former players will continue and try to hammer out a settlement. The NCAA will eventually get hit with the same lawsuit and if the framework of the initial NFL/players settlement is any indication, the NCAA better be prepared to reach into the group’s bank account.

The rules committee became the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of America in 1906 and the NCAA in 1910. Because the NCAA believes in something called “principle in amateurism” and looks after athletes by keeping them away from the temptation of professionalism and commercialism and looks after the best interests of the student-athletes, the group got a special tax-exempt status as a charitable organization under the Internal Revenue Code as well as Congress and President Gerald Ford in 1976.

The NCAA can also group school members into one entity and sell sports like men’s college basketball as one for the purpose of getting a TV contract under the provisions of the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.

Big time college sports was built by the government whether people like it or not. They live on the bending of antitrust rules and laws by the United States government.

In 2006, the question of why the NCAA has tax-exempt status reared its ugly head for the first time in years.

That fall, Bill Thomas, a former House representative and a chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, called into question whether the NCAA deserved the tax exemption. After Democrats seized control of the House in November, 2006, Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat from Harlem, became chairman of the powerful committee and maintained that he might review the exemption as well.

During his tenure, Thomas became concerned that college sports, with their skyrocketing coaches’ salaries, new and renovated stadiums and arenas, enhanced revenue streams from club seats and luxury boxes, and ballooning television contracts, were becoming too much like professional sports. In a letter to Brand, Thomas asked,

“Why should the federal government subsidize the athletic activities of educational institutions when that subsidy is used to help pay for escalating coaches’ salaries, costly chartered travel and state of the art facilities?”

On January 7, 2007 on ABC’s “This Week” program, Rangel told host George Stephanopoulos, “I will be taking a look at all tax exemptions.” He added, “I certainly join with Bill Thomas on that, in taking a hard look at that as well as many, many other tax-[exempt] organizations.”

Rangel never addressed the NCAA’s tax exemption. Seven years later, no one in Congress has touched the issue.

In November, 2006, Brand sent Thomas a 25-page letter making the case to the retiring congressman that the NCAA was dedicated first and foremost to educating its athletes. Brand cited recent academic reforms that strengthened eligibility standards and studies that showed the average SAT scores of athletes to be higher than those of the general student population to underscore his point.

Brand, a former president of Indiana University, also defended the high salaries awarded to basketball and football coaches, writing, “If the educational purpose of college basketball could be preserved only by denying the right to telecast the events — students, university faculty and staff, alumni, the institutions of higher education themselves and even the American taxpayer would ultimately lose. The scale of popularity and the media attention given to football and men’s basketball do not forfeit for those two sports the educational purpose for which they exist.”

The NCAA president suggested to Thomas that successful football and basketball teams attract nonstudent athletes to their facilities. Thomas seemed unimpressed.

“Federal taxpayers have no interest in increasing applicant pools at one school opposed to another,” he said. He also questioned why men’s college basketball coaches on average earn about four to five times the salary that women’s team coaches make. “What additional educational benefit do men’s basketball coaches provide beyond that which is provided by women’s basketball coaches?” he asked.

It would be rather refreshing if some adult in Congress did in fact hold hearings on the matter. Should a panel be convened, it should also address some issues that are in need of clarification, beginning with Title IX and rumors that many schools are cutting various men’s programs to comply with Title IX rules. In fact, many schools appear to be dropping certain men’s sports programs because of the rising cost of insurance — not Title IX.

Whether student activity fees should be going to the building or renovation of sports facilities at both big and small college programs, and whether non-athletes can use the athletic facilities that they pay for with student activity fees, ought also to be examined.

The Ivory Tower dwellers like the big time Saturday football games, the men’s college basketball tournament and the compliant sports media has been boosting college sports for decades. The partnership between media and college sports has been a good one for both and neither side wants to see that go away but the good times may have caught up to the NCAA and that’s why Emmert is out there trying to convince people that the economic model is good for everyone. He is almost right, it is good for everyone except the athletes who have to live by the Ivy Tower rules and cannot make money from off campus work. Eventually that will change but for now, Emmert is out there pushing a flawed agenda that might be righted by a jury and judge.

Evan Weiner can be reached at evanjweiner@gmail.com. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365489 ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?mt=11 ), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196?mt=11 ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-weiner/1101715508?ean=2940044505094) and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/business-politics-sports-selection/id771331977?mt=11 ) are available from e-book distributors globally. 2014 e-book, sports business 2010-14(https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/393652 ). The e-books are available from e-book distributors globally.

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