In the not too distant past, newly hired Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice (formerly of Robert Morris) and current Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez (formerly of the West Virginia University Mountaineers), left their universities holding the bag. To say that these men exemplify the legal jargon “breach of contract” would be quite an understatement.
Both coaches bolted with quickness from their schools, players and fans without any true remorse or emotion. There were also no discernible penalties assessed on either coach by the NCAA. Is that a tad weird or what? If coaches are permitted to do what is best for their families and their careers then why are student-athletes competing under the umbrella of the NCAA forced to sit out a year if they decide to transfer to another school.
It is painfully obvious that the current system is designed to create and maintain maximum profit for the member institutions, while providing concurrent residual windfalls for surrounding areas and businesses. Everybody makes money, while the existence of most student-athletes is poverty-stricken at worst and in the best of times economically challenged all the while getting bitten on both sides of the neck by the NCAA vampires, especially those student-athletes competing in football and basketball.
In an April 2000 article by Harry Bruinius for the Christian Science Monitor titled “College players still amateurs…but barely,” Bruinius says this about March Madness: “What many believe to be the quintessential amateur athletic event is more and more becoming a multi-billion dollar industry, replete with trademarked merchandise, overzealous alumni and unctuous sports agents offering athletes illegal perks. Television revenues will bring the NCAA $242 million this year, or 80 percent of its annual income. This is just part of the $6.2 billion contract the organization has signed with CBS, which will have exclusive rights to broadcast the March event for years to come. More than other sporting events, the NCAA Division I tournament is a showcase of American egalitarianism, a rough and tumble meritocracy.”
As far as compensation for their “services,” economist Andrew Zimbalist is quoted, asking, “Do you give them a stipend, like you give work-study students, or do you try to pay them according to their market value? If you do the latter, I think they really can’t be students anymore since that violates academic culture. [But I do believe that] there should be certain slots for non-matriculating athletes who would be paid as professional minor leaguers.”
Why isn’t there a “limited type” of free agency in college athletics? In Flood v. Kuhn (407 U.S. 258), there was a 1972 United States Supreme Court decision upholding, by a 5–3 margin, the antitrust exemption first granted to Major League Baseball in Federal Baseball Club v. National League. It arose from a challenge by St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood when he refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season. He sought injunctive relief from the reserve clause, which prevented him from negotiating with another team for a year after his contract expired.
Although the court ruled in baseball’s favor, 5-3, it admitted the original grounds for the antitrust exemption were tenuous at best, that baseball was indeed interstate commerce for purposes of the act and the exemption was an “anomaly” it had explicitly refused to extend to other professional sports or entertainment. That admission set in motion events that ultimately led to an arbitrator’s ruling nullifying the reserve clause and opening the door for free agency in baseball and other sports.
There still seems to be a perverted type of anti-trust exemption for the NCAA and its members. But what could be a direct slap in the face is that most of these “schools” declare themselves as nonprofit entities, getting billions in grants from the government. Where is the charity for these student-athletes? If an athlete feels that he or she may have a better opportunity at another school then they should be allowed pursue it. The same principles should also apply if the coach that recruits an athlete decides to seek greener pastures. Why should coaches be allowed to seek healthier fields when the athletes are forced to chew on their cuds?
The scholarships granted to students are a pittance compared to the loot these money grubbers rake in from the blood, sweat and tears of America’s youth.
The future of the NCAA should be to invade their gold-lined coffers to pay the athletes for their services. No ifs, ands or buts about it. It is a known fact that everyone throughout the college administrative and coaching ranks is getting paid while the players are getting played.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)