The NCAA is a cartel that exploits the unpaid labor of teenagers to make obscene profits for stuffy old people in suits. No one of reasonable intelligence disputes this. It’s been true, it continues to be true, and it will remain true until huge sweeping changes are made or the whole thing goes down in a spectacular fireball like the infamous hydrogen balloon pictured above. Good men and women have screamed about it from mountaintops for a while now (most notably Taylor Branch in his fantastic takedown in The Atlantic two years ago), and it almost, kind of, maybe seems like we’re finally getting to the point where the wood in all this has bent as far as its going to bend, and small cracks, creaks, and snaps are starting to become noticeable. Good.
Anyway, I bring all this up because the always excellent Charles Pierce has a piece up at Grantland today that is pure word-gold if you’re into this stuff. He starts off discussing the absurdity of playing the Final Four in cavernous domes (and really, you should read the whole thing), but the real fun part comes when he gets to NCAA president Mark Emmert’s recent statement that the NCAA’s “miscellaneous expense allowance” somehow doesn’t conflict with their stance that college athletes shouldn’t be paid. You. Read. Now.
Mark, dude. Let the light dawn. As soon as you allow athletes to pick up extra money because they are athletes, that’s the ball game. It doesn’t matter if you call it a salary, or a stipend, or a “miscellaneous expense allowance” — though I really wish you wouldn’t call it that — you are giving the basketball player extra money because he is playing basketball. He is playing and the school is paying. I have been paying close attention to this stuff for going on 40 years and what you’re proposing is exactly what the NCAA told me was wrong and awful through about 38.5 of those years. You were up there, because the real powers in the sport, the TV networks and the university presidents and the commissioners of the various conferences, let you in through the tradesman’s entrance to be the front man for a crumbling charade, essentially to make the same argument Chris Webber was making 20 years ago when he asked why his “miscellaneous expenses” were not allowed. The players know it. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock and Trey Burke and Mitch McGary all know it. They knew it when they got here and they’ll know it tonight when they throw the ball up to make a whole lot of strangers even more wealthy. They all know the system’s dying, and that the loudest noise in Atlanta is not the cheering or the pep bands. It is the distant, thundering hooves of all those horses long ago let out of the barn.
Oh, that is delicious. Simply delicious. I’ll let young Eric Cartman take us home.