The gig is up. The NCAA knows it, and there's only one solution
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
The gig is up, and the NCAA knows it.
That’s why, at long last, leaders from its most powerful conferences said Wednesday that there cannot be athletes on the field without students in the classroom.
Take that, Mike Gundy.
It was a moment to remember, an administrative end-around.
The key question is why? Why did Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby reveal the money quote Wednesday?
“Our players are students. If we’re not in college, we’re not having contests,” Bowlsby said, according to CBS Sports. “Our message was, we need to get universities and colleges back open, that we were education-based programs, and we weren’t going to have sports until we had something closer to normal college going on.”
Are the college power brokers concerned about the players’ welfare?
Let’s be human and say, yes, absolutely.
Are they concerned beyond belief that playing games without students on campus would present the most compelling, complete evidence yet that they are a professional sports business acting under the protection and pretense of amateurism?
Let’s be realistic and say, yes, absolutely.
They hammered home that point Wednesday.
“The management committee members explained how college sports is different from pro sports,” Bill Hancock said, according to Yahoo! Sports. “For example, college (sports) can’t resume until students are back in class.”
In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to hear that, in part because the NCAA easily could have noted that kids are in class, just online, and few would have blinked.
I’ve grown so conditioned to the NCAA’s rigid stance on athletes’ rights that Wednesday’s news took me by surprise. I understand wanting to distance themselves from Gundy’s tone-deaf comments. But it seemed odd that they dove into the pro-vs.-college deep end, when, until Wednesday, much of the debate about college football this fall was framed around a different question: As long as kids were taking classes, could colleges play football in empty stadiums? Over the past few weeks, most of us reluctantly came to the conclusion that football in empty stadiums is far more tolerable than no football at all. Basically, for the same reason eating broccoli is better than going hungry. At least it’s something.
So, OK, pass the greens, strap ’em up and let’s play some ball.
Optimism was building and it seemed real.
Professional sports are pushing ahead, leading the charge. As well they should. The NFL Draft will be held next week. The PGA is planning tournaments as early as June. Major League Baseball is working on scenarios to play a season in Arizona and Florida. The NBA hasn’t given up hope of having a postseason. Every bit of it might be held sans fans. Bygones.
Their athletes, after all, are paid to play. It’s a business, with billion-dollar TV contracts. It’s not quite business as usual, but it’s still big business. They have none of the optical pitfalls college administrators have.
Make no mistake, that issue — pay for play, which has been percolating for decades in the college ranks — is at the forefront of Wednesday’s game-changing declaration.
Power 5 athletes receive a nice stipend, but they want more. This isn’t about whether you agree or disagree about paying the players.
This is much more fundamental.
This goes to the heart of the legal ground the NCAA has stood on as long it has existed. These are students, amateurs. They are not employees. They are not professionals. The ADs reminded us of that Wednesday.
There is no hiding now. The curtain has been removed.
The NCAA said athletes can’t be the only students on campus and still pretend it’s all just fun and games for good ol’ State U.
I firmly believe, had the NCAA reached some sort of amenable pay-for-play model years ago, Wednesday’s conversation would have been a lot different. They, too, would be pushing ahead, just like the professional sports commissioners who participated in a conference call with the President.
But pay-for-play hasn’t happened. Not yet, anyway. And NCAA leaders want to keep it that way.
The NCAA backed itself into the corner Wednesday.
What’s the solution? The same as it’s always been. At long last, quit pretending these athletes aren’t employees, that they don’t generate revenue, fund stadiums and create 7-figure head coaches. Quit pretending they don’t deserve a slice of the pie that they harvested and made.
Want to play football in the fall if the kids aren’t back on campus?
The bill is due.
More and more, it looks like that’s the price the NCAA is going to have to pay.