The Miami “Punishment” is Fitting for the NCAA

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body for big time college sports in the United States, has once again demonstrated that money is everything and ethics mean nothing to this group that is comprised of school presidents, chancellors and provosts. The governing body has decided that the University of Miami’s “punishment” for violating whatever the group’s guidelines in running a sports program is the loss of nine scholarships for the football team, three scholarships for the basketball program and three years probation.

The verdict from the NCAA stems from a four year investigation that a University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro gave money among other favors to University of Miami athletes.

You cannot weaken the University of Miami for “violations” for a simple reason. You cannot degrade your television product and college presidents, chancellors, provosts and trustees known a viable University of Miami football team will bring eyeballs to the television sets and will enable NCAA TV partners to sell a few more ads at higher prices. The NCAA is easing off on sanctions to Penn State following the Jerry Sandusky case and is going to restore some scholarships that were taken away from the football program for the same reason. George Mitchell, the former United States Senate Majority Leader and a man who brokered peace in Northern Ireland along with getting to the “root” of the steroid problem in Major League Baseball, said Penn State is on the road to rehabilitation and that is good enough for the NCAA.

What is good for the NCAA in the money making machine is a highly competitive Penn State program. A good Penn State team makes for good TV and that means more money flowing into the industry.

University of Miami President Donna Shalala knows all about television and following the money. She orchestrated the University of Miami’s move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2003. The ACC was looking to add “markets” to make the ACC cable TV package more attractive to the Walt Disney Company’s ESPN at the time and went after the University of Miami (Miami market), Boston College (Boston) and Syracuse University (the thinking behind that was that Syracuse despite a more than five hour drive from New York City would captured the New York market for the ACC). The ACC got the University of Miami and Boston College from the Big East in a battle that included a lawsuit which eventually was settled with the ACC taking the schools and forcing The Big East to poach other conferences to fill out the conference.

In 2003 Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration got a letter from a number of United States Senators complaining about what would be the start of a major realignment of college sports conferences which basically begged Shalala to reconsider moving the University of Miami from the Big East to the ACC.

A decade ago should have been the time that everyone should have stopped pretending that Division 1 college football and basketball is some sort of amateur or scholastic endeavor for students. In the 1930s, screen play writers knew that big time college sports was loaded with corruption and wrote a movie spoof starring the Marx Brothers. The film, Horse Feathers, features a story based on the Groucho Marx character Professor Wagstaff looking for the best two football players he could find in a speakeasy to play for Huxley in a grudge match against Darwin. The money was released in 1932 and still stands up as an indictment of college sports “amateurism”.

Schools like the University of Miami are big-time professional operations where everyone from schools to coaches to TV networks make big dollars. Everyone that is except for the performers, the teenagers and young adults who play the games that attracts people to the arenas and stadiums or to watch them on television.

Colleges are supposed to be places where students matriculate and get ready for the real world where football should be a social activity. But, for Division 1 schools though, the real world is filling stadiums and arenas with well-heeled boosters, signing deals with corporations for stadium naming rights, getting money from shoe companies for outfitting their teams and putting the best product available on the field so that the Walt Disney Company’s ESPN unit or Comcast’s NBC sports division, or Sumner Redstone’s CBS, or Rupert Murdoch’s FOX or Time Warner can dole out multi-billion dollar contracts for their games.

While all of this is going on, Division 1 college athletes are getting nothing but a scholarship to attend the school. And “attend” is the operative word here because there are many schools that aren’t graduating their football and basketball players. The NCAA will counter that statement though by claiming “Division I student-athletes who entered college in 2006 earned their degrees at a rate of 82 percent – the highest ever.” Of course the NCAA will not go into the details about the claim, whether athletes are taking legitimate courses of study, if some athletes are pushed through the system and kept academically eligible through different means than a normal student. People will accept the NCAA statement at face value though because a group like the NCAA is always honest in the world of perceived perception.

Athletes are prohibited from holding down jobs while they play. Even if so-called student athletes want to go to class, they are somewhat restricted because of long, daily practices and travel. But the athletes are getting a scholarship and should be happy with that and should stop complaining. After all, it is a privledge to sacrifice your body and perhaps wrecking their brains playing football for a scholarship for the old alma mater while everyone else is making money.

The athletes are responsible for billion dollar TV deals for the NCAA Basketball Tournaments, multi-million dollar national and local cable and broadcast TV deals, yet they don’t see a penny from any of the contracts that college and university presidents along with athletic directors approve.

Here is a novel idea, perhaps House of Representatives members and the Senate should start working together for the American people instead of their narrow interests and start to rein in big-time college sports, take tax breaks away and demand that the stars of the show, the athletes, get their fair share. Big time college sports have run amok. It’s time to come clean and admit that Division 1 football and basketball are nothing more than minor league proving grounds for players and moneymaking ventures for everyone else.

But don’t count on that coming voluntarily from the NCAA or Congress. The only way things will change is successful lawsuits against the schools and there are a number of lawsuits out there, some of which could change the very nature of big time college sports in the United States.

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) are available.

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