Grim Tuesday

The mood on campus today is, as you might imagine, grim and somber.

So, what better way to move on from last night’s loss than to pick on one of the chief shills for the big-time college sports enterprise, our old friend Danny Kanell.

Kanell last came up in these parts after his idiotic comments concerning an alleged “war on football,” allegedly perpetrated by the “liberal media.” Kanell has made a name for himself in part because of a basic confusion in sports (and other) media about provocative versus ill-informed commentary. Indeed, it’s largely because so-called liberal media is so self-conscious and defensive that such confusion exists, allowing guys like Kanell to be taken much more seriously than ought to be the case.

Recently, Mike and Mike’s audience was treated to some of Kanell’s “provocative” commentary about the value of college athletes. Jay Bilas, whose own thinking on the inequities in college athletics has become ever sharper and more refined was in studio and explaining to Mike and Mike why the standard defenses of the status quo – including the lack of salaried compensation for college athletes – simply don’t hold water. The specific impetus for the conversation was recent debate about transfer rules and why, in particular, coaches and regular students can move from school to school whenever they want, but college athletes (in certain sports) can’t. Bilas used the opportunity to identify the broader hypocrisy at the heart of the collegiate model, which is that the NCAA and its member schools invoke the athletes’ status as students when it suits them and their status as so-called “employees” when it suits them, but always to the detriment of the players.

It was at this point that Kanell called in to counter Bilas.

He made two claims that are Emmert-level nonsensical:

1) almost all college athletes are worth *less* than the value of their scholarships. Why? Because the only thing that drives interest in college sports is the brand of the schools. We watch Duke vs. UNC not because of the players, but because of the uniforms. The players are interchangeable. Therefore, they have no value.

Bilas challenged that statement by asking why, therefore, coaches make millions of dollars a year. Kanell tried to argue that it’s because fans actually do tune in to watch coaches. But that argument fell apart quickly. Even if it were true in some meaningful sense that fans tuned into watch elite coaches – like K., or Roy, or Coach Cal or Pitino – the vast majority of fans couldn’t identify the vast majority of coaches in the NCAA tournament. And yet, those largely anonymous coaches are still making seven figure salaries. And of course there are large numbers of athletic directors, assistant coaches and other athletics administrators drawing high salaries, not a single one of of whom could be said to be the reason why fans are tuning in to watch a team during the tournament.

(See Patrick Hruby’s detailed analysis of college athletics, the amount of money pouring in as a result of the labor of the (predominantly black) athletes and who’s profiting by that labor).

If one extrapolated more broadly from Kanell’s “logic,” one could also draw other conclusions. I’d be willing to bet that 99.99% of Coca-Cola sales are brand driven. Does it follow that Coke could sensibly not pay any of its employees? After all, since the brand is everything, the employees are all replaceable. And since they’re all replaceable, they have no market value.

One more note in this thread – by Kanell’s logic, Roy and Coach K. could recruit the likes of me, my friends Danny, Marty and Yoni, roll the balls out and watch the ratings soar and the dollars pour in. After all, it really is just the name on the front of the jersey that matters. Indeed, ESPN reported recently that the ACC is slated to make a record $40 million in additional revenue due to the success of the six conference schools that advanced to the Sweet 16 and beyond in this year’s men’s tournament. Needless to say, that’s a direct function of the talent of the players.

(Granted, there would be initial entertainment value, I suppose, in watching me and my friends embarrass ourselves. But that would presumably fade quickly).

2) college athletes can’t be said to be employees who have jobs because they’re playing a sport.

Um, hello. Did Danny Kanell, himself a former pro football player, really try to argue that pro athletes should not draw salaries because, after all, they’re playing a sport and, therefore, not working a job for which they should be compensated?

Grim, indeed.

(I’m sorry – I can’t find the link to the show in question, but I promise I am not misrepresenting what Kanell said).



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