Saturday, February 13, 2016

Amateur hour. Not.

Here's a tidy sum to trot out there, the next time you're compelled to believe the NCAA when it feels compelled to trot out the term "student-athlete" and all attendant fictions:


As in, "One hundred thirty-six thousand." As in "Dollars." As in "The business of major-college athletics is business, no matter how often the NCAA calls its unpaid labor 'student-athletes.'"

That $136,000 was what Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh spent on recruiting in 2015, including flitting around the country in a private jet. It was an investment on which he got a lucrative return, netting UM the No. 4 recruiting class in the country.

And it wasn't by any stretch unusual. The spending of hundreds  of thousands of dollars and usage of private jets is pretty much SOP these days for the nation's premier football (and basketball) programs, the better to feed the maw of a corporate entity that rivals any on Wall Street, and has become virtually indistinguishable from the openly professional versions of sport.

And all with a workforce that essentially gets compensated by the barter system.

The NCAA has all kinds of rules and regulations prohibiting its unorganized labor from getting its mitts on a single dime of the billions that labor generates. It's an inherently unfair system, but it's also diabolically clever, because it's been put together in  such a way that paying its workforce in a conventional sense would likely bring about ruin for the entire system.

In other words, the system pits students in the revenue sports against those in the non-revenue sports by pleading poverty for all if it was forced to start paying wages for its labor. And it cleverly inserts class warfare into the process by suggesting that any play-for-pay would involve some "student-athletes" making far more than others.

I can't think of a more perfect example of divide and conquer.

Look. The Blob has made its position known before: Paying college athletes probably wouldn't be feasible, but if a coach or a booster or whoever wants to buy a kid a cheeseburger once in awhile, the NCAA shouldn't treat as a crime but simply a business expense. And if you're going to make a kid a billboard for Nike or adidas or Under Armour, that kid should damn well be compensated for that. And for every time you use his image to sell your product.

Instead, we've got a system so disdainful of the "student-athletes" who fuel it that in some instances -- the Big Ten, for instance -- they're compelled to use different basketballs depending on what apparel company the home team is in bed with. It's utterly ridiculous. Even the "student-athletes" know it.

“It’s definitely different,” Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes said of the Under Armour balls in use at Maryland, which apparently are so bad visiting teams practice with them for days just to get used to them. “Personally, we don’t like it too much. I don’t like the Under Armour ball whatsoever. But that’s the way this amateur sports league is set up. We’re supposed to be having fun, but all the money is in these basketballs that colleges play with. But it’s an amateur sport, we’re just here for fun. It’s not really that serious. So I guess any ball should be OK.

“Maybe we should have a universal ball like the NBA. You don’t go to the Clippers’ stadium and play with a Nike and then go to Golden State and play with a Rawlings. But in this amateur sport of college, where money isn’t the goal—it’s the student education and experience that you get—we play with a million different basketballs.”

I take it all back. Turns out our "student-athletes" really are learning a thing or two in college these days.

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