The NCAA should be nearing a breaking point. But in reality, things are going exactly as planned. Recently the NCAA has been confronted by its hypocritical, unethical behavior ranging from lax observance of rules to maliciousness all the way at the top. The upshot is that Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, is ignorant, insidious or both. Either way, he needs to go.
Two big scandals have been uncovered recently. First it was the revelation that Larry Nassar, a team doctor for Michigan State and the US Gymnastics team, is a serial child molester. Many sources claim that Emmert was personally told of reports about Nassar as far back as 2010. More recently, the FBI probe into college basketball has shed light on one of the worst kept secrets in all of the NCAA’s shadowy dealings: “Pay to play.” It’s where agents and universities work together to illegally pay players first to play for that university and then sign with the agent. Given that every few years another big-name coach gets suspended or fired for recruiting violations, this development isn’t really a surprise. What’s more surprising, at least to me, is that Emmert still has his job. I’m no legal scholar, but given the breadth and depth of illegal activities occurring under his domain, I’d hope Emmert has to stand trial.
The NCAA exists to make money. If it were a selfless non-profit looking out for the good of all student-athletes, maybe it would enforce its own rules. Instead, the NCAA has, over the course of many years and many, many rule violations, developed a neatly scripted plan that would be beautiful if it weren’t so treacherous. First, it creates the opportunity for misconduct by maintaining that its athletes are students first and amateurs; therefore, they deserve to make no money beyond getting their education paid for. Too often, this measure disproportionately harms black athletes. Basketball and football, the two huge money makers for the NCAA, predominantly feature black athletes. And these two sports don’t have a well-developed farm system, like the minor leagues in baseball. As a result, athletes who could sign multi-million-dollar endorsement deals or make some money selling autographs aren’t allowed to profit on their own likeness at all. The NCAA and individual schools get to sign TV deals, sell tickets and merchandise, and use those players for branding, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Meanwhile, the athletes get nothing. Can you blame DeAndre Ayton (if it turns out that he did get paid $100,000) for taking the money when he’s worth probably twenty times that on the open market in terms of endorsements? Especially if he or his family needs it.
The next step in the NCAA’s plot to create a need for itself is to knowingly let the schools break the rules. The NCAA is essentially a broken promise. It’s a set of rules that it gets to punish schools for. If schools didn’t break the rules, it wouldn’t exist. So the NCAA turns a blind eye to all the money being thrown around (The recent revelations are certainly just the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not we get to hear about more.) because it gets to profit off of those players and teams. Then, years later, when the players have been exploited and wrung for profit, the investigation process begins. The NCAA takes their sweet time with investigating, because they want to make sure the players get to play (read: make money for the NCAA). Only after they’re out of college do the investigators swoop in. The reason some current big stars are under investigation now is because of the FBI got involved. I’m sure otherwise they would have “discovered” in three or so years that Ayton, Bridges, and other current guys named recently might have done something wrong. When they’re done investigating, they put the cherry on the sundae: vacate wins. It’s an empty gesture from a crooked, cracked shell of an organization. They tell us that Louisville didn’t really win the 2013 national championship, or that Jim Boeheim has only won 921 games, or that Reggie Bush didn’t win the Heisman. It’s silly. You can’t undo history, and they know that. It’s a resolution that proves that people are bad, the NCAA is good, all while keeping the money flowing. The result is that the NCAA gets to gleefully show how necessary they are in such a corrupt world, all while not actually doing anything to stop the corruption. Corruption which, if you’ve been following along, they incentivize by not allowing players to profit off their own likenesses. The NCAA creates the need for itself and pretends to fill it. It’s like a sports Ponzi scheme. (Maybe. I don’t really know how a Ponzi scheme works. Let me know if I’m completely wrong.)
It all makes sense. Mark Emmert still has his job because he does it perfectly. He is just credible enough that he gets away with seeming incompetent, when really he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to. I hope that the FBI’s involvement will finally push the NCAA, or the universities themselves, or someone (anyone!) else, to change the system.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.