AS THEIR CREDIBILITY PLUMMETS, the suits who run college sports are deeply invested in a game of subterfuge cynically designed to win the public. Ostensibly standing up for the sanctity of the NCAA's amateur model, they are shifting the conversation far from their business practices to the more favorable position of blaming the players.
This strategy -- to go on the attack in the face of scandal -- is an old one, yet it never fails to shock in its condescension. Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim referred to paying athletes as "the most idiotic suggestion of all time." Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who also is opposed to compensating athletes, said it was time for college sports to "redefine amateurism." Then there's Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who recently drew a hard line against players with the audacity to expect compensation from a billion-dollar industry that pays everyone but them.
"If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish," he said. "Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness … But don't come here and say, 'We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.' Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don't ask us what we've been doing."
These are among the doings the NCAA may not want to talk about:
· The Big Ten is the richest conference in America, according to Forbes, bringing in $310 million in annual revenue. Close to $3 million of it goes to Delany every year in compensation.
· IMG is part of the NCAA game, with its own college sports marketing division. To cite just one example: In 2009 Ohio State outsourced all its promotional rights -- shoe deals, stadium ads, souvenirs -- to IMG College for $11M, according to Taylor Branch's book The Cartel.
· Injured players can lose their scholarships at their school's will, debunking the myth that they are compensated with a "free" education.
· Star players are always for sale. On its website, South Carolina offers 58 different photos of Jadeveon Clowney, from $12 to $200. It hardly needs to be pointed out that Clowney receives zero of it.
· The NCAA has cooperated with pro leagues in the establishment of age-limit rules that prevent players from playing professionally until, in effect, they have generated money for their schools. For all the heat that Clowney took for pulling himself from a recent game at the last minute due to an injury, the fact remains he was in that position only because the NFL wouldn't take him. Clowney had no choice in what he could "get" after his sophomore season -- he either had to return to South Carolina or sit out a year. (Meanwhile, Krzyzewski wants the NBA to raise its age limit. In the name of amateurism, of course.)
Upton Sinclair, the muckraker who exposed another foul industry, meatpacking, in the early 20th century, once said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." And what Delany & Co. don't understand is that the controversy of the amateurism model isn't about the players' wanting to monetize; it's about the NCAA's lack of shame in profiting from a corrupt system. Boeheim makes 20 times the salary of a college professor. Krzyzewski earns roughly $7 million. They might argue they are being paid only what the market bears. But a huge reason there's so much money to go around for coaches (and Delany) is that the players aren't allowed to share in it.
The NCAA's power brokers don't actually have to pay players to make a genuine bid for credibility. They just have to be willing to embrace the amateur model when it comes to their own compensation. If Boeheim were to earn $200,000 a year instead of $1.9 million, fans would still watch. Players would still play, and the hypocrisy over not compensating players wouldn't be so stark.
Of course, this will never happen. The collegiate machine benefits too much from this shell game. So the suits will keep talking about the players to shift focus away from them. It is the ultimate naked bootleg: The media and public are focused on the line, while the power structure is holding the ball, dancing in the end zone.