By Drew Johnson
When I was a younger lad, I watched an interview with Chris Weber, he of Michigan “Fab Five” fame and a borderline NBA Hall of Famer. When the mercurial and well-
spoken Weber was asked whether college athletes should be paid, his response was classic and incredibly relevant. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this.
“Me and Juwan (Howard – fellow Fab Five member) got back late from practice one night and the cafeteria had closed. We were starving, and since neither of us had any pocket money, we both picked up our couch and shook it until almost $2 bucks of pennies, nickels, and dimes fell on the floor. We loaded up in Juwan’s car and rolled to a Krystal burger. So I’m sitting there, waiting in the drive thru, when I noticed a Michigan sports apparel store right across the street. My jersey (#4) was hanging in the front window. It was selling for almost $400. So I have to shake couches to get food while that store and the university are making a fortune off my likeness. So you tell me… should college athletes be paid?”
I’m guessing this interview was in the mid to late 1990s. His point was valid then. His point is valid now. In fact, it’s more valid now than ever. College athletics have transformed into a multi-billion dollar business, chopped up for ad profits and shared by broadcast stations, cable providers, local coverage, and websites galore. What does the athlete receive? A free education and the chance to hone your craft to get to the professional level, in theory.
A free education is nothing to belittle. My great-great-great grandchildren will probably be paying off my student loan. But preparing a student to go pro? Taking out college baseball players (11.6% get drafted by thirty teams through at least 50 rounds), only 1.2% of college athletes will play professionally, both at home and abroad. So spare me the song about how college sports translate into pro athletes. That argument folds faster than a house of cards.
To say a free education entitles the NCAA to keep millions of dollars of profit (and rising) annually, while college athletes continue to shake couches for food? Hogwash. Poppycock. The NCAA is getting rich off the backs of the same college athletes they are trying to nurture. If that doesn’t reek of hypocrisy, then your smell glands don’t work. Something has to change before the entire rustic and outdated governing body burns to the ground. The NCAA will argue paying athletes violates and destroys amateur athletics. Really? You’re telling me that giving back to the student athlete a monthly per diem of, say, $2000 per month, is ruining their educational pursuits? You’re telling me that it will destroy their desire and ability to get an education? You’re trying to tell me you can’t AFFORD that much, NCAA? In the words of Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, ‘child, please’. Save it for the judge.
If the value of an education is the NCAA’s rallying cry, why hasn’t this “esteemed” body sanctioned North Carolina back to the stone ages when football players didn’t even wear helmets? For those that have not been watching, UNC and NCAA golden boy Roy
Williams have both been knee deep in an academic scandal for three years now. Evidence of forgery, guaranteed grades, and fake courses has come to light. Whistleblowers at the university have been fired. The New York Times and 60 Minutes have interviewed former players, mocking the so-called “education” they received during their stay in Chapel Hill. Yet the NCAA does nothing. NOTHING.
Why do I have the feeling that if Kentucky was in the exact same situation as North Carolina, the NCAA would be living on campus with the nuclear football ready to destroy every athletic program?
I may be a bit paranoid. Then again, if it’s true…
Look, I don’t know how the NCAA can be fixed. That’s above my pay grade. Maybe it CAN’T be fixed. Perhaps it needs to be destroyed, eulogized by Bobby Knight, and removed from annals of modern history. The organization has steadfastly refused to recognize that times in college athletics are a changin’, and they’ve been a changin’ for the past two decades. Instead of adapting to help college athletes, they’ve kept their greedy eyes on the dollars. Instead of being arbitrary and fair, the NCAA seems to pick and choose what and whom they will prosecute.
And don’t even get me started on the one-and-done rule…