The NCAA: Naughty Crooked Athletes Association?

 Ryan O'Donnell

SP-RyanSimilar to the #MeToo movement that made like the Scorpions and rocked Hollywood like a hurricane – all starting with the sleazy Harvey Weinstein – Louisville’s equally sleazy head coach, Rick Pitino, appears to have set off a storm of his own in the NCAA. Pitino illegally persuaded recruits to play at Louisville by bribing them with large sums of money. To add insult to injury, he was discovered to have purchased prostitutes to engage in sexual activity with the underaged recruit players. Last week, ESPN reported that Sean Miller, the head coach of the Arizona University Wildcats basketball team, was exposed on phone conversations wiretapped by the FBI to have similarly bribed star recruit Deandre Ayton $100,000 to attend the school and play basketball there. The shocking report resulted in a highly polarized response from NCAA basketball fans all across the country. Many condemned Miller and Ayton for their actions, and others argued that collegiate athletes should receive a salary. When I first heard people bring up the latter argument, I burst into laughter, and here’s why.

These collegiate athletes receive far greater benefits than all the Ted Turners and Warren Buffetts in the world. The NCAA themselves reported that more than $2.4 billion is granted in scholarship money every year for Division I athletes to attend university for free. Why is this a big deal? Well, unless you live in a cave, you’d know that college is every bit as expensive as Ted Cruz is ugly, and going there for free is a huge deal. This benefit alone is enough to compare them financially to professional athletes. For how ridiculous the argument that they deserve a salary is, several prominent sports figures have relentlessly stood by it. Golden State Warriors forward and NBA All-Star, Kevin Durant, has claimed that if allowed, he would have entered the draft straight out of high school in order to receive financial support for his family. Former NFL running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush agreed, arguing that he and several of his teammates would starve while playing in college. Obviously, the latter statement is riddled with hyperbole produced by Bush’s obnoxious imagination.

It’s not just that college is expensive; these athletes might as well not be going to college at all if it weren’t for sports. The University of North Carolina, whose men’s basketball team won the 2017 NCAA Tournament last year, serves as the prime example for this bold, but factual statement. The school was found to have several bogus classes offered, which roughly 3,100 students enrolled in – half of which were athletes! Don’t even think about sitting down after reading that, because you’ll stand right back up when you read this: it went on for about eighteen years. The classic “academics before athletics” principle apparently doesn’t apply to the Tar Heels, who wormed their way out of punitive action. This is all thanks to the incompetence of the NCAA investigators, who – much to their own dismay – failed to uncover any major wrongdoings, despite several years of investigation.

Within the greedy, “gimme-gimme” attitude and argument of these student-athletes also belies another contradiction worthy of ridicule and mockery. Isn’t the whole point of going to college to get an education? For people who are fortunate enough to receive the opportunity, college is the key that opens the doors to the “real world”, granting them independence from the clutches of their parents and transforming them from immature adolescents into responsible grown-ups. Once they start to receive a salary, the original motive behind college – which is educating these aspiring stars of a bright future – will all be for naught. The money to pay these student-athletes also has to come from somewhere. Unfortunately, the “money does not grow on trees” adage is just as true now as it was when your parents first told it to you, and paying these athletes may mean raising the price of college tuition for every student who is not an athlete. Buckle your seatbelts for a cringey, “angry old grandpa” argument that is thought-provoking nonetheless: an even more dangerous alternative would be that this money comes from our tax dollars.

Whether Sean Miller’s scandal is genuine unscrupulousness or just a product of menacing media malpractice from ESPN and their East Coast love affair, there is an “afterschool special”-esque moral at the end of the story. The metaphorical “brass ring” in life doesn’t just come to anybody, even basketball players with championship rings. The brass ring has to be earned, and the first step to climbing the steps of the ladder and grabbing it are to attend university. “Academics before athletics” may seem like a cheesy 1970s sitcom cliche, but just because an argument has been prevalent for decades doesn’t render it false by any stretch. The financial immaturity of most college students would break through if most college athletes were paid, which only serves to throw them down in the economic dumps later down the road. If college still wishes to achieve the mission of preparing its pupils for bigger and better futures, paying student-athletes does nothing more than hinder their own budget, bring forth a state of financial instability, and give these players egos bigger than their own muscles.

*Update: As of the time this story has been posted, Sean Miller has been acquitted of all charges from the FBI and NCAA. This verdict was reached after a three-hour sit-down meeting between Miller, Arizona University athletic director Dave Heeke, and Arizona University President Robert C. Robbins. Considering it appears to be Miller’s word against everybody else’s, this “investigation” might as well have been carried out by Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, or even the Scooby-Doo gang. But that’s another editorial for another time.