One Awkward Moment

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That was the phrase used by CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish to describe Shabazz Napier’s derisive comments about the academic ban that kept UConn out of the 2013 tournament. As Parrish and Napier both pointed out, it’s hard to take the NCAA’s claimed commitment to academic integrity seriously when so much about their enterprise so obviously requires making academics take a back seat.

But more awkward for the NCAA, it seems to me, is that within hours of having been named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, the same Shabazz Napier said that he frequently went to bed hungry or “starving” because his scholarship didn’t provide enough for him to find consistent and reliable sustenance. Arian Foster shared the same experience in the film Schooled: The Price of College Sports. And it’s the height of embarrassment that this is happening when the NCAA is making as much money as it is off these guys.

Comments like Napier’s and Foster’s highlight the preposterousness of the NCAA’s position on unionization. While association president Dr. Mark Emmert makes evermore desperate and ill-conceived assertions about the consequences of unionization, the NCAA has been forced to admit that it can’t even act to fund scholarships sufficient to cover the full cost of attendance. In other words, it knows it’s shorting the players. The NCAA has been studying, proposing, considering and ruminating over an increase in scholarships for years, and nothing has changed. And newsflash – nothing will until their hand is forced. Whether that’s by a football team voting to form a union, or the mere threat of such an action, the current absurdity will persist if the NCAA is left to its own devices.

As I mentioned in comments last night, I was reminded yesterday of perhaps the most unbelievable line in the entirety of the NCAA’s interminable manual: it’s in section 2.9, the heading of which is titled “The Principles of Amateurism.” It reads, in part: “student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.” The NCAA just hosted its men’s basketball championship in a football stadium with 80,000 people in attendance, paying top dollar for tickets, in the midst of an orgy of commercialism. In 2013, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was the single most lucrative in North American sports, raking in $1.15 billion in advertising revenue. The star player on the championship team says he sometimes goes to bed “starving.” And the NCAA professes concern for players being “exploited” by commercial enterprises.

It’s just a sick joke at this point. Who would trust this organization to do the right thing without a powerful legal inducement?

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