The NCAA and the sports media are all shocked -- shocked! -- at the details of hookers, parties and payoffs emerging from the latest scandal to rock college sports, an exposé by Charles Robinson at Yahoo! Sports. The University of Miami and its players, it should come as no surprise, were not playing by the rules and now people are suggesting the ultimate penalty for the program: shutting it down (temporarily).
This would just punish Miami's current players for participating in a system that is a sham top to bottom.
The notion that the NCAA and its schools get hundreds of millions of dollars in profits is OK because the players are getting a free college education is an insult.
So the debate over the death penalty is a distraction from the real issue in big-time college sports, which is that the whole system is a scandal. It profits from the work and talent of its labor force, giving almost all of the athletes almost nothing while thousands of individuals, institutions, and corporations are enriched by their talent and hard work.
Many of the top football programs graduate fewer than 50% of their players, and the chance of a Division 1 football player signing an NFL contract is 2.4%.
So the chance that a U. of Miami football player will ever get anything out of his participation in the program is not good.
We expect them to work their asses off for our entertainment for free?
We don't expect that of any other high-performer in society, why do we expect it of these young men?
Perhaps because they're almost all black and poor?
Scholarship athletes are the only people on campus who aren't allowed to work while enrolled. The needy can flip burgers, the brilliant can write software, the sexy can model.
But the athletically gifted and devoted can't spend an afternoon shooting a TV spot or hire an agent to market him.
Meanwhile, players see jerseys with their names on the back sold by Nike and Adidas, and their coaches getting compensated in the millions.
The few schools -- like Notre Dame, Stanford and Northwestern -- that insist their scholarship athletes meet the same academic requirements as the rest of the student body and therefore give their players a chance of actually receiving the promised degree and corresponding education, are rewarded for their integrity with a limited pool from which to recruit and the mediocre teams that inevitably result.
Occasionally a team will burst through -- as with Northwestern's Rose Bowl appearance in 1996 and Stanford's Final Four showing in 1998 -- but the descent from virtue of college sports is clearly illustrated by the fall of Notre Dame football from the elite. The last of its 11 national championships was in 1988; the last time it realistically competed for same was 5 years later; and its record since 1997 is 99-73.
A better system would ensure, first, that all exceptional high school athletes are prepared for college-level work.
The fact that football and basketball student-athletes are mostly minorities, and therefore more likely than the population as a whole to be impoverished, is an indictment of the failure and lack of fairness of our educational system.
If everyone with the intellectual capacity to do it were equally prepared for college-level work, poor people wouldn't have to stake their physical well-being and two-to-five years of earning potential on a miniscule chance of riches in the professional ranks.
A better system -- a fair system -- would then ensure that student-athletes do the schoolwork and graduate.
Or it would acknowledge they are not being prepared for graduation and pay them instead.
One way of doing this would be to put a portion of TV revenue into a trust fund that pays all student-athletes, no matter their sport, a stipend, say $1000 a month.
This would ensure fairness for those who choose to pursue sports that don't generate revenue.
Those players who are able to market themselves, for instance through endorsements or merchandising, would be permitted to do so.
Under this system, the many players who perform well enough to be famous, but not well enough to be selected for the pros, could get their due.
I'm no expert, so this proposed system may fail to take into account factors that are obvious to others. But it seems like a good start, and it's clear that almost anything would be better than the current system, under which everyone involved is getting rich except those without whom no revenue would be generated at all.
What do you think?