UNC’s first game in the ACC starts Wednesday and with tipoff our own Chapel Hill corner of March Madness kicks off. Amid the excitement — and terror — of watching college basketball’s most exciting moments over the next month, it is important to keep in mind the NCAA’s perpetual scandal.
Perpetual scandal is not just possibility of agents loaning players money or facilitating cash payments for commitments at high profile schools like Arizona or UNC’s unpunished academic fraud. It is the basic operation of the NCAA as an organization and its continued exploitation of revenue sport athletes. March Madness annually generates almost a billion dollars for the NCAA, and while schools are awarded for winning with money allocated to their conference and coaches have healthy compensation deals the players involved receive only a small portion of their value.
The failures of UNC and the systemic misbehavior of professional agents are symptomatic of the NCAA’s lack of interest in the welfare of the students it profits from. The availability of illicit loans is only so enticing for some athletes because the financial inflexibility of the scholarship system often leaves them struggling to pay for food or rent. This is particularly true for low income students, a subsection of college athletes that is shrinking as the money needed to become a top tier college athlete increases.
On top of this financial crunch, athletes face a crisis in the classroom. As UNC’s own actions have indicated, schools are often more concerned with keeping students athletically eligible for competition than they are with their academic success.
This is not just explicit fraud. It is an attitude implicit in encouraging athletes to enroll in less rigorous classes or failing to treat basketball as a professional opportunity while following a schedule that makes it difficult for players to engage in other traditional extracurricular education opportunities like internships. This is not to say that being a student athlete cannot be an enriching experience, but it’s a strenuous addition to the already difficult workload of college.