NCAA is no longer about academics, it's concerned only with profits

Posted: August 30, 2013

AND THEN, the lamb opened the fifth seal, and I heard the voice of the fifth living creature say, "Come and see!" I looked, and there before me was a maroon horse. Its rider was holding a Sharpie in his right hand, an 8-by-10 photograph in his left. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the five living creatures saying, "Thirty minutes without football, and an address to the team regarding the situation and lessons learned."

With that, it vanished, the last layer of pretense fading soft into the Indianapolis night. Where once hung a thick veil of hypocrisy, there now stood a maypole made of solid gold, its tethers attached to 124 men and women, each one scrambling madly after another, their greasy palms pawing air aflutter with hundred-dollar bills. From the seating bowl that encircled them swelled a rabid howl, television executives and university trustees sucking seven-dollar beers, cheering the sight of once-proud academics stuffing cash into their briefcases and their breast pockets and the waistbands of their suit pants.

The good news is that the robber-baron presidents who run the Bowl Championship Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association are no longer feigning interest in anything beyond the rivers of revenue that flow into their annual budgets once football season arrives. The tribulation of Jonathan Paul Manziel offered our ivory tower overlords another chance to propagate their peculiar charade. Instead, they powered down the Emerald City and stepped out from behind the curtain.

This is a positive development, particularly for the legions of current and future college students who find their futures choked by the rampant profiteering that threatens to undermine the vast societal good provided by our system of higher education. On the 28th day of August of the Year Two Thousand Thirteen, the presidents of some of our nation's greatest research institutions let it be known that their top priority is cash flow, and that the pursuit of said cash flows need not be hindered by the same processes of logic that are taught within their hallowed halls. Only a trust-buster strips away a monopolized good such as "Johnny Football." That is the logic that plays.

You can argue that the academic-industrial complex conceded this notion several years ago with its handling of the Cam Newton pay-for-play allegations, yet the presidential proxies at the NCAA never actually yielded their black-and-white moralism, because they never actually punished Newton. With regards to Manziel, however, the NCAA and Texas A & M acknowledged in a joint statement that the 20-year-old Heisman Trophy winner violated the rules. And however ludicrous those rules might seem to those of us who would willingly miss half of a football season with writer's cramp if somebody was willing to pay us for our signatures, equally so is the NCAA's rationalization that a 30-minute suspension and a 15-minute show-and-tell period 1) is an adequate punishment for the letter and spirit of the violation and 2) is not a blatant attempt to prevent the absence of college football's most famous and marketable star from torpedoing the ratings of a slew of nationally televised games, two of them occurring in the first 3 weeks of Texas A & M's schedule.

The alleged academics who oversee revenue college sports are no longer wearing any clothes, so we should no longer feel compelled to recognize them with the legitimacy of a name such as the NCAA. They have acknowledged who they are, and thus should we. Our first order of business, then, is to rebrand the organization, to remove the "Collegiate" from a corporation whose mission is anything but. Call it the Athletic Profits Enhancement Cartel, or APEC. Once this is accomplished, we can begin the task of extracting academia from the professional basketball and football player development business, which is the first step toward implementing the multitude of reforms necessary for both institutions to maximize their respective contributions toward society.

Our chief concern is not with APEC but with academia, where, according to Bloomberg, the average cost of tuition and fees increased 1,120 percent between 1978 and 2012, a figure that is much more in line with the increase in athletic spending and revenues than it is with the increase in expected value of a college degree during that time period. The philosophy that has driven so many big-time athletic departments to become self-sufficient, or self-funded, is at odds with the core premises of collegial learning. The strength of the university is supposed to lie in the collective, a value that is undermined by the dual economies present on BCS campuses, where students struggling to rationalize the diminishing rate of return on their academic investment walk past $90 million ice palaces and stadiums where the ol' ball coach is really the ol' judge, jury, executioner, CEO and, in some tragic cases, deity.

Last week, the president of the United States outlined some of the steps he hopes to take to combat the aforementioned diminishing rate of return on tuition dollars. A significant chunk of the more than $150 billion that the federal government spends each year ends up in the economies of universities with athletic budget per-capita spending that dwarfs academic per-capita spending. That federal aid might not go directly to athletics, but its presence on the academic side engenders the fiefdom mentality that pervades many athletic departments, where practices such as pouring excess profits back into the department result in facilities upgrades that the general student population is unable to enjoy because it is too busy attempting to finish its course load in time to avoid another semester of ever-increasing tuition. One of the first steps of real reform should be to reduce federal aid to schools whose athletic spending does little to enhance the well-being of the entire campus population, thus forcing a university president to choose between life as the chief academic officer of a school or life as the chief executive officer of a professional sports organization.

The members of APEC have already made their choice clear.


Email: dmurphy@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

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