Pressuring NCAA Sponsors to Advocate for Education

I just got an e-mail from Amanda Terkel, who helps to run a "non-partisan" (but blatantly anti-conservative) blog called Think Progress. I know little about these things, and have never heard of this blog, but it looks to be a wicked serious blog with a ton of traffic and comments (not uncommonly, 100+ per post).

Here's what she has to say:

The American Progress Action Fund will be launching a campaign on Monday called, "Graduation Madness: The Road to the Final Four-Year Degree." The campaign will highlight some issues I thought your blog might be interested in " how many men's basketball teams in the tournament continually fail to meet the NCCA's Academic Progress Rates, yet sponsors continue to profit off the players and take no responsibility for their academic success (or failure).

The campaign we're launching on Monday will send e-mails to companies encouraging them to not only take responsibility to ensure that college basketball players, but will also demand that they provide financial incentives to schools that consistently exceed minimal academic standards (as defined by the NCCA) and terminate sponsorship deals with schools that consistently fail to meet them.

A similar campaign, she says, got $20,000 people involved in convincing corporations not to give to Tom Delay's legal defense fund.

So, who will they be pressuring? Cingular Wireless, The Coca-Cola Company, Pontiac, CompUSA, DiGiorno, Enterprise, The Hartford, Lowe's and State Farm Insurance are the ones who are personally thanked on the NCAA's website. I'm sure they'll be getting the first e-mails.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say "so what?" I feel like the real thing that's going to change is that one day soon we're all going to stop pretending that "student-athletes" are students at all. Most NBA-bound basketball players probably don't belong in those classes they would be failing without tutors anyway. And they're making mad cake for other people, many are getting paid on the sly by boosters and people who want a piece of them once they're rich.

I've also heard that being in college is hell for a lot of top athletes, because they are made to feel like complete idiots in class day in and day out. It's murder on their self confidence.

I'd rather have the whole charade come to an end. Why mix our best young athletes with our best young academic minds? It cheapens both.

And why keep poor young athletes from a chunk of the money people pay to sponsor them and see them play?

I think the best teenage players should play for multi-year, corporate-sponsored professional basketball programs. Instead of playing for "Duke," you'd play for the "Duke Basketball Academy, brought to you by Nike." And those players would earn a reasonable salary. Maybe $30-50,000. They'd play for the national championship. They'd take classes at neighboring Duke if they were motivated to. The rest of the time they'd work on their jumpshots, and take classes related to their profession: Choosing an Agent 101, Managing Your Money 203, and Groupies 303 etc.

I could talk about that all night, and have in the past with friends.

It's very pie-in-the-sky, though. In the meantime, I am in favor of universities being places where people learn, so I applaud this effort. It's a good use of free speech to pressure businesses to do things in the public interest. It's the business's right to ignore the e-mail campaign, and doubtless many of them will. But it's good to be organized and heard if you don't like the way things are going.

Once the Graduation Madness program is officially up and running, on Monday, you'll be able to follow it here.

UPDATE: Amanda just read this post and points out in an e-mail that above I was wrong about who the campaign is targeting:

We're actually just going to be targeting the companies who sponsor the teams, since they have the most leverage with the schools. (Mostly Nike and Adidas, and a couple of othersĀ¦most schools are sponsored by Nike.) Therefore, if schools continue to fail to comply, eventually we want them to pull their sponsorship. (But in the meantime, hopefully the sponsors will provide resources to the student-athletes to help them graduate.)