The Plantation System of Big Time College Sports

Last August 29 I posted a piece entitled “College Football and Unionism”.

In it I pointed out the obvious: college football  is big business; television contracts worth billions, “branding” by universities, coaches and athletic directors earning in the millions, the NCAA representing the “1%” of college football.

At the same time, college football is the de facto minor league of the NFL. In fact the NFL will not draft any player sooner than three years from his high school graduation – and the NFL has a Supreme Court decision supporting their right to do so.

In my view the NFL, the NCAA and college football collude to restrict the ability of a young player to turn his talents into a living – a clear restraint of trade violation.

The arrangement between college football and the NFL prevents a young talented player from earning what his talents are worth in the open market – he is virtually required to do his “time” in college football, risking serious injury and for little reward before being able to possibly cash in. It is classic restraint of trade. Of course the NCAA and anti-union Republicans don’t see it that way.

Everyone is making lots of money except the players. They, according to the NCAA and and supplicant media, are “Student athletes”. They are not allowed to make money. They have “amateur” status. Signing footballs or jerseys for a few bucks for crazed fans is against the rules and could lead to a player becoming “ineligible”.

As I mentioned in the previous post, “student athlete” is a lawyer term The term came into play in the 1950s, when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workers’-compensation death benefits. Did his football scholarship make the fatal collision a “work-related” accident? Was he a school employee, like his peers who worked part-time as teaching assistants and bookstore cashiers? Or was he a fluke victim of extracurricular pursuits?

Given the hundreds of incapacitating injuries to college athletes each year, the answers to these questions had enormous consequences. Critically, the NCAA position was determined only by its member institutions—the colleges and universities, plus their athletic conferences—as students themselves have never possessed NCAA representation or a vote. Practical interest turned the NCAA vigorously against Dennison, and the Supreme Court of Colorado ultimately agreed with the school’s contention that he was not eligible for benefits, since the college was “not in the football business.”  Right.

The NCAA enshrined the term “student athlete” into the rules and regulations. “The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies.

Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms.

Now, to be an “eligible” student athlete you have to be a “student”.

This week the sham was brought into the full light of day.

According to a scathing independent report,  advisers at the prestigious University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill funneled thousands of “student athletes” into “paper classes” to keep them eligible to play basketball and football.  This went on for 20 years.

It was adviser Debbie Crowder, who actually created the paper classes “for athletes and other students who were not “the best and the brightest.” A number of university staff refused to cooperate with the investigation.

The student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel reports, the new report “found clear evidence that academic counselors from the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams asked for players to be enrolled in bogus independent study classes in order for them to be eligible.”

“Student athletes” who clearly were not ready for college level work were steered into no show classes – the only requirement being a paper at the end of the term – graded by Debbie Crowder. No professors were involved in teaching or grading.

An example of an essay submitted was obtained by CNN:

On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. “I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them “why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

This elementary school level “paper” got an A- for the course, pushing up the athlete’s grade point average, offsetting the “D” or “F” he might get in a real class.

The UNC whistle blower, Mary Willingham noted that too many of the athletes steered toward these no show classes were functionally illiterate.

Why? Follow the money.

Now not all universities operate like this or are so blatant about keeping a star athlete “eligible”. Many do their best to see to it that student athletes are really students. There is ny denying however that many of the big name football and basketball schools steer those not ready for college work into the “easy” courses where they are ensured a passing grade.  They will take a good athlete who would not otherwise qualify for acceptance into their universities and turn him into a “student”.  They will in effect, “hire” him to play football or hoops, with a wink and a nod.

All to maintain the subterfuge that these young men are not “employees” for, if they aren’t really students, what are they?

They are not paid you say? Yes they are – tuition, room and board. They are not under contract you say? Yes they are. The only true student athletes are those not on athletic scholarship – those that pay their own way.

It is time to recognize the plantation system business of big time collegiate sports – let’s call these athletes what they are – employees, entitled to be represented in the hallowed halls of the NCAA.

Time to allow them to earn what they are worth.  Everyone else in big time college sports is riding on their backs.




About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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6 Responses to The Plantation System of Big Time College Sports

  1. Aquileana says:

    There is a huge business behind NFL Football… No doubts bout it… Great reading… Always a pleasure to stop by, Toritto!.
    Best wishes, Aquileana 😛


  2. That’s capitalism for you. Like they say, no profit without exploitation.


  3. toritto says:

    Indeed Doc. So sayeth Marx. Regards.


  4. carolahand says:

    I remember the student entrepreneur who helped UW-Madison football players pass classes by writing their papers and employing others to write for them. He did quite well financially…


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