Wherever there is malfeasance in college athletics, exploitation is sure to be nearby.
Such is the case with the bombshell report last week that Division I college basketball programs were under investigation for impermissible payments to student athletes from a rouge sports agency.
One of the many allegations from a two-year FBI investigation that has snared more than 20 blue-blood programs is a wiretap in which University of Arizona coach Sean Miller is caught attempting to secure a $100,000 payment for freshman center DeAndre Ayton, a supremely gifted 6-11 Bahamian who no coach believed would do more than the required one year of college—playing approximately 35 games or so—before leaving for the NBA
Ayton, of course, is Black, as are the majority of players in Division I basketball, a cash cow that is in the third year of an $8.8 billion television contract with CBS and Turner to televise the NCAA Tournament. Miller, of course, is white.
Ayton’s payment is the most stunning among the allegations of which more are expected to come. Many of the others are as little as payments of $1,500, or a dinner paid for by the agency, both of which are violations of NCAA rules.
Of the 24 schools ensnared in the investigation, just four of the coaches and four of the athletic directors are African American. Every single one of the current college players under investigation is African American.
While Ayton’s payment appears to be outlandish to those not well acquainted with the monetary landscape of college sports, be clear that it is little more than a rounding when one considers the billions of dollars he and other African Americans generate for these universities.
Because of them, hundreds of thousands at these universities and a myriad of ancillary businesses and industries—from vendors to media to doctors and trainers, the list goes on and on—thrive. If not for their labor, there would be either a staggering drop-off in bottom lines in literally hundreds of business sectors. Other professions would cease to exist entirely.
Yet for all this, the NCAA, which opposes compensating its student athletes, remains hyper averse to hiring African Americans to either coach these recruits or oversee the athletic programs that would not exist as they do today without the African American athletes upon whose backs this multi-billion-dollar enterprise rides.
As someone who has covered the NBA for more than two decades and been in and out of thousands of sports arenas from coast to coast, the only time Black athletes see an overrepresentation of themselves in the pipeline is when they linger behind in stadiums and arenas long after the games are over and the cheering is done.
This is when the refuse left behind by the overwhelmingly White fans who have used their disposable income for yet another hedonistic experience must be disposed of. The clean-up crews are always, in every case and in every instance, made up of overwhelmingly Black and brown people. That’s just the way it is.
One hates to draw comparison to the plucking of cotton or the cutting down of sugar cane, slavery industries that for centuries drove the southern economy. After all, the student athletes are getting a free education.
But it is too difficult to ignore the similarities. The coaches and the administrators are the overseers; the ball players are the free labor, and the industries were and are booming.
One symptom will eventually be addressed. This investigation will bring college athletes closer to the day when there will be no other choice but to compensate them. But sharing the wealth and dividing the pie among the ancillaries will move at a snail’s pace, if at all.
(John N. Mitchell has worked as a journalist for more than a quarter century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tweet at @freejohnmitchel.)
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