College athletics and the NCAA have faced heat lately for the growing perception that "student athletes" are cash cows, milked until they're no longer of use, then tossed aside for the next herd to come in.
The most damning passage on the debate is not new; rather it comes from former president of the NCAA Walter Byers, an integral force in shaping the system. In his 1997 book "Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting the Student-Athlete", Byers wrote, "The NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive benefits authorized by the overseers."
While much of the current uproar is focused on the NCAA's treatment of Johnny Manziel, a lightning rod with Johnny Unitas' skill set and Lindsay Lohan's judgment, a new issue is coming down the road.
Local organizers in Charleston, South Carolina are pushing the NCAA to allow them to bring a Bowl Game to the Lowcountry. Bowl Games bring money and exposure to the cities that host them, and unlike larger, multi-day events, no real problems.
The dispute about this stems from a familiar problem in the South, the Confederate flag. Some in the South Carolina legislature have not given up their ancestor's dreams from 175 years ago. In 2000, after sustained protests, the state of South Carolina took the flag off the top of their statehouse, but rather than tossing it in the trash, they moved it to a more egregious spot; right in front of the Capital.
To punish the state, the NCAA has banned championship events at "pre-determined sites" in South Carolina since 2001, but as is often the case with the college overlords, they've been less than consistent in their enforcement. The NCAA has allowed Clemson and South Carolina to host NCAA regional baseball games, the College of Charleston to host basketball tournaments and Benedict College in Columbia to host a Division II bowl game. Some in South Carolina now fear that with everything on their plate, the NCAA will break and allow the state to skirt the rules completely.
The optics for a Charleston college football bowl game could not be worse. Two teams, full of unpaid, mostly black players, will come into Charleston, make millions of dollars for their school, for the clueless organization that "presides" over them, and for a state that doesn't have the decency to take town a flag that celebrates a point in American history where these same players ancestors were held captive, tortured, raped and murdered.
The flag is disgusting slap in the face to a large percentage of Americans. Charleston is a gorgeous city with tons of friendly people. The food is the off the charts and Sullivan's Island is one of the great places in the country to go out on the water. But the state's refusal to accept its past is unparalleled. Every other southern state with the exception of Mississippi (whole different set of problems) has recognized the offensiveness of the flag and removed it from their statehouse. I will never understand how you can call yourself a "patriot" while celebrating a flag that represents your secession from the country you claim to be loyal to.
The slavery analogy has stuck, partly because it's easy and Americans like to hyperbolize, but also because the former leader of the organization introduced it in the first place. College athletes are not slaves; they're provided education, state-of-the-art training facilities and at times, a level of fame that makes it easier for them to transition into the work world. But with every eight-figure check these universities are cashing off the talents of "student-athletes," the hypocrisy becomes clearer.
A group of workers, putting their bodies on the line for a brinks truck load of cash that they'll never see. Earning millions of dollars for a state that refuses to acknowledge or apologize for the most deplorable period in American history. This is a problem the NCAA doesn't need.