Bad PR week for the NCAA

Posted: June 12, 2014

SOME NEWS items from the past week:

Roy Williams, the head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, was accused by Rashad McCants, a former star player, of encouraging academic fraud.

A few days later, John Calipari signed a 7-year, $52.5 million contract to remain the University of Kentucky head basketball coach after reportedly turning down a $60 million offer to be coach and president of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers for the same time period.

On Monday, the NCAA announced a $20 million settlement with former and current players seeking to be compensated by the use of their images and likenesses in video games. That's in addition to the $40 million EA Sports has also settled on. Although the NCAA claimed there has been no compromise of its policy that prohibits any form of compensation for performance, the deal was announced the same day as the start of a long-awaited antitrust suit brought by former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon in a U.S. District Court in Oakland.

The "notion that this isn't compensation from the play on the field,'' said Steve Berman, the lead attorney in the case settled Monday, "is ludicrous.''

"It is the first time, to my knowledge, that the NCAA will have paid a student-athlete related to that student-athlete's performance on the field. Until they did this today, that was against their core message."

Um, NCAA . . . Can you say, "Circle the wagons"?

Or put another way, if the NCAA were a traded stock, there would be a big dip in its price over the last few days.

Not that it isn't still a good buy. After all, nothing is happening to that $10.8 billion over 14 years that it is getting from networks to broadcast its basketball tournament or the $7.2 billion ESPN is paying over the next 12 years to broadcast the new College Football Playoff.

Not yet, anyway. O'Bannon's suit, though, which was once joined by the suit settled Monday, seeks not monetary damages, but a change in the way the business of college athletics is conducted. It asks U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken to lift NCAA rules prohibiting college athletes from being paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses in broadcasts and video games. Athletes should have the right to profit from their signature, from a poster bearing their image, from a jersey with their name or perhaps just the number on it.

"With the amount of money they are bringing in, they should be compensated for it,'' O'Bannon testified Monday, adding that he dedicated 40 to 50 hours a week to playing basketball and that he was steered away from majoring in communications and toward U.S. history because the class schedule fit better for basketball.

"I was an athlete masquerading as a student," he said.

McCants says that he was, and that he can prove it. He has produced his academic transcript in which he achieved dean's list status via four no-attendance-required classes after nearly becoming academically ineligible to compete the semester before.

More troubling, though, are the allegations of masquerading that enabled that masquerading. McCants said that after a discussion with Williams, his failing fall grades in the fall of 2004 were "swapped out" with summer-school classes he had already passed to keep him eligible. In the spring, he said he was steered into four African-American studies classes that required no attendance but a final paper. And, he said, tutors wrote those papers for him.

He made the dean's list with four A's.

Williams denied the discussion with McCants took place and pleaded ignorance to the content or structure of the spring curriculum. Of the so-called "paper" classes that require no classroom attendance he said, "It shows a lot of discipline because you're self-directed."

"If my players took independent study courses that were offered by this university for a reason that the university thought they were valuable, my players, if they took those courses, did the work, and I'm proud of that part of it."

Translation: I didn't devise those courses.

Williams' job description, at least the one that will keep him hired and making millions, is to reach Final Fours and win national championships. Same with Calipari, who admits to recruiting players with a one-and-done mentality. Their job will not be judged on whether their players matriculate or even have a meaningful curriculum. It will be judged on how well - and whether - they play.

And the truth is, most of America gets that. And most, including me, doesn't care. Except when I hear some impassioned defense of the system for the value of an education it provides. Then I get disgusted. Even if it was worth $200,000 over 4 years - which it almost always isn't - the hours these kids put in practicing, playing and traveling, and the money changing hands due to their exploits, dwarfs that so-called investment.

And as for all those nonrevenue sports that might suffer? It's not supposed to be Ed O'Bannon's job or Rashad McCants' job to keep them afloat. Their job - and it clearly is a job - is to win games and keep their schools in place to profit from the next multibillion-dollar TV deal.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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