Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I doubt this bill will ever get out of committee, or be signed by Herr Ziffel if if comes to that, but a pair of influential legislators in California have finally put the NCAA's feet to the fire by introducing a bill that would forbid colleges in the Golden State from obeying regulations mandating amateurism for student-athletes. It's always amazed me the amount of newsprint that gets wasted on investigating whether some booster gives a campus superstar a loaner to drive around town, and perhaps some spending money for dates and such, as if it were a sin to receive something that wouldn't even raise an eyebrow if the beneficiary weren't a college athlete. Colleges rake in hundreds of millions a year on sports, but they seem to think that the producers of that wealth should get nothing. And now they are upset that some lawmakers have a problem with that.

At this point, the usual arguments get tossed out. Hey, those athletes don't get nothing--they get a scholarship, a free "education". Well, that's assuming that after practicing forty hours a week they still have time to go to class, hit the library, and cram for tests, and that's not even counting time spent eating, sleeping, recuperating from injuries, dating, going on road trips, etc. Besides, walk-ons, who by definition don't receive scholarships, don't get paid either. And students in other activities, such as theatre and music, get scholarships as well, but no one forbids them from making money on the side. Oh, and did I mention that athletes in some conferences, such as the Ivy League, don't even receive that.

But what about the notion that the role of college is to educate, and that sports isn't important enough to honor those who play it well? OK, then maybe colleges should only give scholarships to athletes on an at-need basis, and then only to those jocks with superlative academic qualifications. And then after that, those schools should be forced to give all of the money received from the Final Four and the BCS Championship to the school's general fund, rather than letting the school's athletic department keep it. Schools don't act like sports are an unimportant cultural activity, perhaps because the rest of society doesn't view them that way, either.

But, er, what about the importance of amateurism, the tradition of athletes playing for dear old alma mater, rather than for manna? Jeez, the Olympics barely care about that anymore, or didn't you notice that college basketball players got pushed aside a few years back for the Dream Teams. Amateurism has always been a way in which the powerful could assert their dominion over those without power, and the NCAA is the mechanism in which they enforce that leverage. In college sports, amateurism now exists partly because of tradition, but mostly to preserve competitive balance; it was imposed in the late-19th Century to prevent schools with wealthy alumni, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, et al., from buying championships. And in any event, would it really be so terrible if Duke and Stanford were able to lure top athletes to those campuses, where they would actually have to go to class and earn good grades to remain eligible.

That the NCAA is still allowed to keep its talent in serfdom into the 21st Century is idiotic. Athletes long ago quit caring about whether they obey every little malum prohibitum regulation the school imposes on them; they take the money that's offered them under the table, and if it's not enough, they turn pro. It can hardly add to the prestige of our educational system that so many top high school basketball players no longer care what their SAT scores are, since the NBA beckons, or that pro teams now view seniors entering into the draft as being reclamation projects, inferior to the real talent coming out of high school (or Europe). So let a thousand boosters bloom !!!


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