The NCAA And The So-Called 'Student-Athlete'

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Sports fans love to designate certain games as "the greatest ever," the "match of the century" and so forth. Well, I would like to state that a piece in the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, which was released online Tuesday, may well be the most important article ever written about college sports.

The author is Taylor Branch, who is best known for winning the Pulitzer Prize for his work on civil rights. Essentially, in eviscerating the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Mr. Branch provides ample evidence that our so-called "student-athletes" are themselves lacking in their rights as American citizens. They are, he says, the "heir[s] to Dred Scott."

The author calls the NCAA itself "a classic cartel." He writes that the contrived concept of amateurism is a "cynical hoax," and that the fact that college athletes make fortunes for their millionaire coaches and conscienceless universities is simply: "tragedy."

He points out, for instance, that the term student-athlete, which is thrown around so wantonly by the NCAA and its journalistic enablers, was essentially created for no educational reasons — but only as a smokescreen to keep players from being able to sue for worker's compensation if they are injured playing for dear old alma mater.

It was crucial, for legal reasons, not to let athletes enjoy the status of other university employees; hence they must be "students," without the common rights of laborers.

Mr. Branch found evidence that the NCAA, which is allegedly a nonprofit, spent a million dollars chartering jets. At the same time, it appears to have spent less than 1 percent of its revenue trying to enforce its rulebook.

Not surprisingly, the real culprits –– the big schools and their coaches –– are virtually never severely punished. Instead, says the author, the NCAA goes after "powerless scapegoats," like the impoverished athletes themselves, or honest professors who dare to volunteer how athletic departments cheat to keep their athletes academically eligible.

In fact, Mr. Branch points out, the NCAA wouldn't dare punish big-time offenders harshly for fear that the major conferences will leave the NCAA and start their own basketball tournament. Only the television money paid by CBS to broadcast March Madness keeps the NCAA in clover.

At the end of the day, the whole point of the NCAA –– despite its sanctimonious educational claptrap –– is to protect the unjust concept of amateurism, so that its client athletic departments get free labor.

As Mr. Branch explains at length — as I have mentioned often before — all this may come crashing down, as lawsuits against the NCAA are finally approaching judgment. In the meantime, I commend to you this exceptional article entitled simply, "The Shame of College Sports" — which begins with the disgrace of the NCAA.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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