A booster spent millions of dollars on gifts for Hurricane football and basketball players
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) talk about the broken system of amateurism in college sports.
The 2011 college football season is just two weeks away! And we already have our first blow-out recruiting scandal of the preseason.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports has turned in the results of an 11-month investigation into the former Miami Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro's involvement with the school's basketball and football teams. Shapiro reportedly sustained an "eight-year run of rampant NCAA rule-breaking" that included "cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play, travel and, on one occasion, an abortion."
Are you shocked and disgusted yet?
I'm not. Yahoo's report is fascinating and important not because it shares all of the dirty, intricate details of Shapiro's entanglement with the Hurricanes—although that is certainly what will carry the story for the next few weeks—but because the report just feels so familiar and unremarkable by now. Yahoo practically has its own template for this story. Shapiro, for all of his impolite frankness, is right when he suggests that Miami would just be "waiting for the big check to come" if he weren't sitting in jail on other charges. For many high-profile college football programs, the NCAA's standards don't apply unless they have to—and that's why we'll keep hearing accounts like this one in years to come. Miami's not alone here.
But must we be outraged? The fact that Shapiro paid for prostitutes and sometimes for, in Robinson's words, an "array of women" to be made available to players in hotel rooms Shapiro had also paid for, is fundamentally offensive. But one player, in defending Tyrone Moss's accepting $1,000 from Shapiro the first time they met, points out that the running back arrived in Miami "poor as [expletive] from Pompano and he's got a little kid to feed... Of course he's going to take [the money.] Who wouldn't in that situation?"
It's a good question. Does Moss, and other players like him, deserve that kind of support (which is very different from a striptease!) from people who are willing to provide it?
Oh, should I go on? In brief, the NCAA is a cartel that exploits young, often poor men (and, to a lesser extent, women) while the members of the oligopoly get obscenely rich. Take Ohio State, center of so much NCAA and media angst because a few evil, evil players were compensated for affixing their signature to merchandise. The Buckeyes' athletic budget tops out at more than $100 million per year and the school routinely brings in nine figures annually in revenue . The athletes themselves get compensated through scholarships (sometimes) but don't receive any other payment for their service. Many of these kids come from extreme poverty and can barely feed themselves, much less help out their families financially. Meanwhile, the school sells player merchandise in stores and online—but God forbid the players attempt to get a little of that revenue stream.
I had an economics teacher in college that liked to wax eloquent about the economic iniquities of college athletics, usually in the same breadth as a financial argument to legalize heroin. If we allowed college athletes to make side money however they could—football signings, endorsement deals, DJing at parties, whatever—college-aged kids could be compensated for their service and athletic departments could get out of the business of making or covering up hush-hush payments to players en masse.
Patrick, you must be on board with ending this charade of amateurism. Am I right?
On board? More like on the plank, rapier in hand, itching to shove amateurism's bloated, rotting, fetid corpse into shark-infested waters. Just as soon as I outfit it with a chum vest.
I'm sorry. Am I being gross? This subject fires me up . I've been banging this drum for a decade, as long as I've been in the sportswriting business. Heck, I've already written about it for this website. At the risk of sounding like a broken record—Emma, Jake, younger readers: think an AAC file with some sort of skip-producing code flaw—I'll repeat myself.
Amateurism is a sham. A bright, shining lie to rival the Easter Bunny, the Earth is Flat and trickle-down economics.
Philosophically speaking, the notion that athletes should not receive market-value compensation for their sporting labors does not come from olive oil-slathered, pederasty-inclined ancient Greek Olympians. Or the 10 Commandments. Or Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. Or the Constitution. It comes from snooty, upper-crust English rowers who didn't want to get their butts kicked by unwashed, uncouth and coal-shoveling-buff factory workers. Which means amateurism isn't just a moral canard, a system in which money handshakes are against the rules because, gosh darn it, they're against the rules. Nope, amateurism is downright ... un-American. Indeed, in what other field of endeavor do we legally tell people they can't get paid?
Oh, that's right—none.
Worse still, amateurism functions like Prohibition—or, if you prefer,the War on Drugs. It takes a pre-existing public health problem andcreates a crime problem. With one key difference. When it comes to boosters showering football players with under-the-table gifts, there is no public health problem in the first place. Just slavish devotion to a bankrupt ideal.
Speaking of the public: We're flat broke right now, from the federal budget to our underwater mortgages. Eliminate amateurism, and what do you produce? Taxable gift income each and every time a Miami Hurricane pockets a little something extra for his on-field troubles. That's money for schools. Money for roads. Money for dollar-losing college sports like wrestling and women's lacrosse.
Liberals, Tea Partiers, all those in between: Unite! Dump amateurism. We have nothing to lose but Yahoo Sports' admittedly first-rate investigative journalism.
Hampton, are you ready to stand with me?
–PatrickSo ... Jake and Patrick: not big NCAA fans. Roger that.
Guys, we all get it. Schools make money. Players don't. Oh, the humanity. Workers of the world, unite.
Pardon my logic, but ending amateurism won't cure all that ails college sports. Sure, Cam Newton would've signed with Nike. A few guys would sell autographs. Athletic departments wouldn't have to sneak cash to players any more. They will be able give them checks—above-board, and legal-like—from a slush fund that pays kids to "work" campus jobs like the one Robby Benson had in One on One.
That's fine if the point is pure economics. Sure. Share the wealth. But why let our pragmatism stop there? Why even keep the "student" in student-athlete? There's really no reason players at a big program like Miami should take classes. After all, it's not like they're real students. They're just football players, right? They're pros. Aren't they?
Ending amateurism sounds like a no-brainier. Maybe it is. But one inevitable consequence of it is that absolutely nothing would stand between college athletes and sleazy boosters like Shapiro. There's something in me that hates that. Whether or not it's rational or fair, there's something in me that says we need a mechanism in place saying it's not okay to take college players to strip clubs or buy them jewelry—just as something in me says, all evidence the contrary, it's important for those players to be enrolled in classes. It matters, even if that schooling is often a sham that denigrates the kid and the university. Sometimes, every once in a while, it isn't.
Which brings us to how you both ignored Emma's question. A player defending Tyrone Moss for accepting money from Shapiro pointed out that Moss arrived in Miami flat-broke with a child to feed. Emma wondered if Moss and the needy players like him deserve our support.
They do. The question is the right way to help them get it.
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