As the Todd Gurley “autograph scandal” once again throws into the national spotlight the NCAA’s insistence that college athletes not profit from their individual popularity. I can’t help but think of all the players whose collegiate athletic careers and reputations have been slammed because of the NCAA’s prosecution (i.e., “persecution”). Obviously, the media fixates on high profile players and cases like last year’s Texas A&M’s Johnnie “Johnny Football” Manziel, Ohio State’s Terrell Pryor in 2011, and Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant in 2009. Pryor’s and Bryant’s college careers were each abruptly cut short because of violations of out-dated NCAA rules and the beginning of their NFL careers were negatively impacted
However, I am also thinking about the dozens of “no-name” athletes whose college careers and reputations are destroyed each year by the NCAA’s draconian rules and feverishly enforced penalties without much fanfare. For example, take the case of former Kansas State University basketball player, Jamar Samuels. Samuels’ college career came to an abrupt and publicly humiliating end during the 2012 NCAA tournament when it was “discovered” that Samuels, a poor inner-city kid without any family to provide him needed support, requested and accepted from his former AAU basketball coach the sum of $200.00 simply to enable him to buy groceries — because his “full” scholarship didn’t cover all of his basic necessities, like food!!
Unfortunately, Samuels was not the first “full” scholarship NCAA student-athlete to have been ruled ineligible due to accepting groceries, and until the rules are changed he will not be the last. Each time this ridiculous scenario is replayed, it is a clear reminder that the current collegiate athletic model is broken: Major college sports are big business. Everyone associated with the industry enjoys just or even rich compensation — except for the individuals who actually generate the billions of dollars that everyone else reaps as profits — the student-athletes. The NCAA’s justification for its un-American actions is an out-dated amateurism rule — a “legal fiction” — that the NCAA itself created, promotes, and regulates.
Any reasonable person who believes that the current collegiate athletic model is just cannot possibly understand how the system actually works. For example, most people do not know and/or understand the six issues outlined below:
1. While players can’t make one cent for advertising and marketing themselves, the colleges and the NCAA are free to utilize the student-athletes’ names and likenesses to endorse any product or company and then to reap the resulting financial benefits.
2. While players are prohibited from having legal counsel to help them make decisions, coaches, athletic directors, athletic departments, and the NCAA all have agents and legal counsel who advise them about their legal rights and negotiate on their behalf.
3. While players cannot accept gifts — even money for groceries — coaches are allowed to accept free cars, private plane rides, and free meals for themselves and their family members every time they go out to eat.
4. While players can’t be compensated for making personal appearances, the schools encourage and/or require players to make media and community appearances for which the schools are then compensated and the student-athletes are given excused absences from class and a “thank-you.”
5. According to the seminal study, “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports,” the average D-1 “full ride scholarship” student-athlete is actually required to pay an additional $3,222.00 annually to his or her university, and 85% of D-1 “full scholarship” student-athletes live below the U.S. poverty level.
6. The four-year scholarship that every high school football player dreams about receiving is actually a one (1)-year financial aid package that is renewable at the institution’s sole discretion and that can be revoked for lack of on-field production alone.
The NCAA must openly acknowledge that the highly commercialized D-1 college game that is currently accepted and promoted by the NCAA actually conflicts with the NCAA’s stated core values concerning “student-athletes” and “amateurism.” To be true to its stated mission “to focus on the development of our student-athletes” and not the persecution of student-athletes, the NCAA must work to effect meaningful changes in these disparities — changes that should certainly include allowing a poor inner-city kid, like Jamar Samuels, to accept $200.00 in grocery money from his former coach.