Kedrick Nettleton, Columnist
The NCAA is under investigation – again. If you’re a fan of college sports, you know that this is not a new or unusual occurrence. Those fans with long or even medium-length memories will be able to call back, on command, at least one or two scandals that have rocked the college sports world. Say the words “Penn State” and people will think not of the historic success of the football program under Joe Paterno or the legendary traditions and culture in Happy Valley; they’ll think of the child molestation scandal and Sandusky, and the immortal image of Paterno’s statue being ripped out of the ground.
So when I heard that the NCAA was under investigation, I didn’t panic. We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again. Even an FBI investigation didn’t seem world-shattering. But then I started reading articles about the importance of this one, how it’ll change the very landscape of the college sports world. And then Rick Pitino got fired. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but I was. It takes a lot to end the career of a long-established, Hall of Fame coach like Pitino, a coach who’s had incredible success at each of the programs he’s been linked to. (I’m not saying it should be that way, mind you, just saying that it is that way. Louisville’s been linked to some seedy things for some time now, and Pitino’s head deserved to roll for it.)
I’m not in the mood to predict the future, so I won’t try to guess how this investigation will end. I also won’t tell you how horrible everything in college sports is, and how it’s all going to hell in a rich, white leather NCAA hand-bag. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. We can argue about that later.
What I am going to use the rest of my space to say is this: the financial disparity in college sports is immense (meaning the disparity of wealth between the people in charge of the profits and the people who actually earn those profits, the players), and I think that this has a lot to do with the vast number of scandals, both major and minor, that we see in the college sports world.
What really gets me about this, though, is that the solution seems so blindingly simple: pay the players. Pay. The. Players. Somehow. Some way. I’ve seen a number of proposals for how it can be done – straight salaries, allowance of endorsement deals, etc. – and while I won’t go into those here, my point is this: it can be done, and done sensibly. Anybody who says otherwise is just lacking in imagination and is tied to the system as it is built today. We’ve made some progress, yes; the NCAA has started to let the crumbs fall off the table to the athletes. But let’s go further, and let’s get them a seat at the table.
The bottom line is that the NCAA is a massive, billion-dollar entity, and the people who get in bed with it get rich. Everyone, that is, except the athletes. Those who cause the cogs in the machine to turn don’t get any of the benefit of that machine. March Madness alone generates a billion dollars from TV endorsement packages, and what do the players get?
And think about it: so many of the scandals that we so often see occurring in college sports have to do with “improper benefits,” the term the NCAA gives for any illicit financial compensation for a student-athlete. This is at the heart of the current FBI investigation. And we all know it happens, probably a lot more than we even realize. It’s going to continue to happen. Schools pay players, shoe companies pay players, agents get paid and funnel that money to the players – if I recall correctly, there was even a mob organization funneling money towards student-athletes in the 80s and 90s. Let’s stop this. We know it’s happening anyway, we’re investigating it, so let’s throw it into the light, make it legal, manage it responsibly.
Something has to be done. It’s what makes sense.