TO THE EDITOR:
We all know the hyphenate “student-athlete” with its blissfully wistful connotations of young men and women who spend their days listening to lectures or poring over books and then, in their spare time, engaging in various sports in the name of the university they attend. What most of us don’t realize is that “student-athlete” is a term devised by the NCAA to disguise a billion-dollar business enterprise operated at the expense of athletes whose lives they control for the duration of their college careers. It is a fiction — one that a senior advisor to NCAA president Mark Emmert called an “exploitation” embodying the “great hypocrisy of intercollegiate athletics.”
On one hand, the NCAA contends, in filings before one court, that its principal mission is to maintain intercollegiate athletics as “an integral part of the educational program” and to promote the academic well-being of the athlete. The NCAA likewise insists that it is dedicated to the athletes’ educations first and foremost — that “at its heart, the NCAA is an education entity.” As recently reported, conference commissioners are “bemoaning a rule they say doesn’t fit the NCAA’s educational values” and object to students having the ability to transfer because the NCAA has “raised” them and “educated” them.
But then, before a different court, however, the NCAA claimed that it has no responsibility to safeguard “the academic integrity of the courses offered at its member institutions”. It further declared that it has no role in ensuring “the quality of the education student-athletes receive at member institutions or (in) protect(ing) student-athletes from the independent, voluntary acts of those institutions or their employees.” The NCAA emphasized that it is far “removed from students’ day-to-day academic experience.” Most emphatically, it contended it has no “direct relationship with student-athletes in the academic realm.”
The truth is that the so-called student-athletes are in reality what Bear Bryant confessed they were decades ago — “athlete-students.” When pressed, even NCAA conferences now admit such. In a recent report by the Big Ten Conference, it was noted that the Association is not “living up” to their commitment to educate student-athletes. In an official paper circulated to “important leader(s), thinker(s), voice(s) or influencer(s) who have the ability to impact the direction in which intercollegiate athletics evolves at this critical moment in (its) existence,” the Big Ten describes this failure as a “national” problem of “systemic” proportion. Although the report found that FBS football and Division I men’s basketball “stand alone” in terms of both generating more revenue and receiving more resources, they are not severable “from the fabric of intercollegiate athletics” as a whole. If those two sports are not healthy, the report concludes, “then the (entire) collegiate model is not healthy.”
Without question, academics have been subordinated to and threatened by athletics — a result driven both by the direction of athletic force and the complicity of the education community. The “athlete side,” the report finds, vastly outweighs the “student side.” The Big Ten report urged that reforms were necessary to “change the current trajectory” in intercollegiate athletics and reverse the “imbalance.” It is critical, the Big Ten report declares, that athletes “not (be) shortchanged.” Educational camouflage, it concludes, is educational “exploitation,” and if the educational value of the athlete’s experience cannot be defended, then the intercollegiate model is “indefensible.”
Elite college sports are a product of a “profitable industrial complex.” The leading architect of the NCAA and its first executive director, Walter Byers, characterized the NCAA as “an economic camouflage for monopoly practice,” diverting money and value from those who create it to those who control it. Likewise, civil rights historian and noted journalist Taylor Branch wrote that while college athletes are not slaves, they perform in a system in which “corporations and universities enrich themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men” and women.
The present system is broken and unsustainable. Until athletes have meaningful rights and a meaningful voice in the balanced operation and benefits of the enterprise, college athletics — however popular — will be haunted by “the unmistakable whiff of the plantation.”
Michael D. Hausfeld