(former UNC star and current Milwaukee Buck, John Henson)
The New York Times’ Greg Bishop reported Wednesday on the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, which took place this week in New York. It included many of the luminaries of the industry, include the big five conference commissioners and NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert.
Bishop says that talk of major change was very much in the air. And that it was also very much talk.
Though the confab included much discussion of reorganizing conferences, stream-lined governance and trimming down the unwieldy rule book, all parties were agreed that, unless they are forced to do so by the courts or Congress, “the N.C.A.A. will not pay players, will not consider paying players and will not entertain the notion of paying players — never, ever, no matter how much revenue is generated.”
Bishop noted a strong circle-the-wagons mindset among the assembled conferees. There was lots of lamenting about how poorly the NCAA had communicated its message and about how unfair it was that the NCAA is widely regarded as running an unfair enterprise – a racket you might say.
Bishop observed: “We also heard a lot about student-athletes and how happy they were and how much they benefited from their scholarships. We heard about this from men in tailored suits who profit handsomely off college sports and whose universities and conferences cull revenue from the same.”
In this context, Emmert insisted at one point: “The countervailing voices of this notion that student-athletes are being taken advantage of has been the dominant theme and had played out pretty loudly,” Emmert said. “The reality is schools are spending in between $100,000 and $250,000 on each student-athlete.”
This particular line of argument is particularly irksome. You see the argument in different forms, but, in its most version, NCAA defenders take all the money spent on athletics on a campus, or on a particular sport on campus, divide it by the participants and come up with a number that is supposed to sound like it’s just compensation for the players. What this means is that, for example, if Alabama has 100 football players, and Nick Saban gets a $2 million dollar raise, the University of Alabama and Mark Emmert and whomever can brag that they are now spending an additional $20,000 on each football player. Is this a meaningful reflection of the schools’ investment in the players, especially their education?
Bishop – the snark is strong with this one – couldn’t resist highlighting the endless recitation of the NCAA’s favorite propaganda term – “student athlete’: “If the N.C.A.A. collected $1 for every time the term “student-athlete” was used, it could have afforded to pay all players in all sports a significant stipend. At least enough for pizza.”
Because this is the NCAA, it’s hard to tell whether the powers-that-be are simply corrupt or whether they are genuinely self-deluded. Bishop’s characterization of the NCAA’s opposition to any real change in compensation for athletes goes as follows: “to go to an Olympic model, in which players endorse products relative to their value on the open market, would affect recruiting. To pay players beyond an increased stipend for the cost of tuition would strike at the heart of the idea that they’re students first. It would reinforce that the billions generated by college football and men’s basketball, in particular, demonstrate that they might be something else.” If you think Bishop is being unfair here, he then quotes the appropriately named Big 12 Commissioner, Bob Bowlsby: “If college athletics establishes an employer-employee relationship, we will truly have lost our way.”
Not “have,” mind you. “Will have.” Yeah.