A potential storm cloud for college athletics

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Surely you’ve heard about the Ed O’Bannon case and the UNC academic scandal. Yesterday, I realized they’re related, in a way that made me stop and say, “Hmmm…”

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon initiated a lawsuit against the NCAA which “challenges [the NCAA’s] use of the images of its former student athletes for commercial purposes,” per that linked Wikipedia entry. That’s putting it mildly. If you want to research a little bit about the case, go ahead, I’ll wait.

You’ve also no doubt read some articles about the UNC academic scandal: no-show classes, tutors writing papers for athletes, etc. The latest articles in the last week about the ongoing UNC situation, which is called “the gift that keeps on giving” by UNC’s rivals, center around former UNC academic advisor Mary Willingham blowing the lid off that situation. Again, Google her name, and I’ll wait.

The NCAA, when it investigated UNC, found no wrongdoing because those same no-show classes were available to non-athletes (wow) … or something like that. I don’t pay any attention to what the NCAA says when it talks, because I’ve taught myself over the years to ignore liars.

The article that I read yesterday that raised my eyebrows was an article about former UNC player Michael McAdoo saying that he was steered to the no-show classes by UNC academic advisors.

McAdoo saying that isn’t a big deal. We all know it’s been going on, and UNC’s efforts to cover it up and minimize the damage are laughable.

But this paragraph caught my attention:

The athletes are using the case to contest the NCAA’s claim that the athletes were getting a meaningful education in exchange for helping universities and the NCAA make millions of dollars from their exploits on the football field or basketball court.

We’ve all heard the arguments about whether or not college athletes should be paid. Those that are in favor of paying athletes say, among other things, that the athletes “get nothing” while the university makes millions.

The rebuttal to that is, “Sure they get something. They get a free education, which is generally worth more than $100,000.” (The value of a college athletic scholarship has been calculated by numerous people.)

But what if a large percentage of athletes are being shuttled through the system and aren’t being given that free education? What if what they’re really getting is a free diploma, which isn’t the same thing?

If that’s the case, something big might happen in the next few years, as the O’Bannon case works its way through the system. I’m not smart enough to imagine the possibilities, but what if, for example, the Federal Government decides to investigate if college athletes are being “exploited”?

If the Feds decide to order a study of academics with regards to athletes at a certain number of institutions (can they even do that? I don’t know), and they dispatch researchers to universities to dig into university records and start interviewing athletes, tutors and professors, a crap storm could break out.

Universities and the NCAA are complicit in the charade of the student-athlete. Universities admit academically challenged athletes, provide them with mountains of tutors and academic support, funnel them to athlete-friendly majors, and in some cases, out-and-out cheat (see the UNC scandal) to keep athletes academically eligible. The NCAA occasionally wags its finger and preaches and hands out punishments, but it never really does anything about it, even when presented with hard facts (again, see the UNC scandal).

It’s amazing how quickly the NCAA went outside its normal investigative and punitive procedures in their haste to body-slam Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but didn’t make a move to punish UNC for its well-oiled machine of no-show classes and plagiarized papers.

It’s a system that works well for the NCAA, its member institutions, and millions of fans.

But if an outside entity — the courts and/or the government — ever really decides to get involved and break up the party, it could mean a world of change for college athletics. Again, I’m not smart enough to know what direction this could go in, but I’m smart enough to see a storm cloud on the horizon.

Many people think the increasing focus on concussions and their long-lasting effects presents a threat to football as we know it, on all levels. But for those of us who follow college athletics, the Ed O’Bannon case, and its relation to the ongoing scandal at UNC (or such practices anywhere else) presents a bigger force for change than football player safety. It could have far-ranging effects across not just football, but college athletics in general.

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57 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Lets give the athletes some credit. Their time commitments are superior to an average students. At Virginia Tech, most athletes will never sniff a professional sports opportunity much less career. I bet the majority of Hokies are learning quite a bit in college and its important to support University endeavours that give the outliers a chance to grow up (so that I may serve) and the exceptional ones a chance to Invent the Future!

    I am in favor of punishing programs who cheat, and this seems to apply to many featured national title teams: auburn and cam newton, Oregon and recruiting scandals, Ohio tattoo st, USC and reggie bush, Miami $$$, florida with the record arrests and Fsu 99 with dillards wr and discoteque kicker all come to mind in regards to vacated wins&championships or players involved in questionable activity.

  2. Depressing stuff. I echo what a lot of you are saying in here – that we would be better off with college athletics the way it was years ago – despite all the corruption that they had. The era of the student-athlete is almost over. I just don’t get why I should feel sorry for a guy who comes to college just to play football and can’t manage to get a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Why do we have to muck up the one decent sport we have left for them? This desire by people to make college football into NFL-lite with playoffs and paid players is something I cannot understand. We already have an NFL. And I have about ZERO interest in it. Go watch that crap on Sundays if you want but keep away from MY Saturdays. Oh well. No use fighting the inevitable, but it is sad to see it all changing so fast.

    I get that it’s all about the money and that stadiums and coaching staffs need to be funded. But that’s kinda what the NCAA is supposed to be there for – to level the playing field a bit and make sure everyone is playing by the rules so money and power don’t pool up into the hands of a select few while others gaze in from the outside. The immense popularity of college athletics has put a lot of power into the hands of those at the NCAA responsible for keeping the house clean. And they all have a price. We’ve all seen evidence that they can be convinced to look the other way when it’s convenient (UM).

    Maybe before they ruin this sport someone will figure out a way to set it right, but I kinda doubt it. The SEC schools will slowly morph into minor-league sports franchises and cease to even have professors or students. Why should they? Everything else except football and basketball is a money loser for them. It’s just business, right? Education has nothing to do with it anymore.

    1. I like the sarcasm but from 1993 to present I have seen Virginia Tech grow into something that very much resembles a University that has strong academics and research. Some programs lead the nation in certain categories. I am sure Frank Beamer is responsible for this rapid growth. Nothing brings people together in common purpose like winning. Go Hokies.

  3. I got an idea! Let’s go back to the way college football and basketball was played in the 30’s and 40’s when they fielded “true college athletes” who actually had to stay academically elegible. The other “super athletes” could go on to some other minor league to prepare for pro football or go directly to pro sports. If they are not big enough or strong enough – too bad!

    1. That would be a more correct economic analysis of how much college players are worth, how well a minor league franchise would survive. Yep, go out and build your own stadium or rent one, however that works, pay bills, coaching, electric, build your brand etc. I suspect a player’s life would be more like those soccer players who go to Europe, wash out, and can’t even afford a plane ticket home.

  4. A D1 football player has about 0% chance to get a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degree. I think the last VT player to do so was probably Caleb Hurd. This poor kid from Woodbridge – Dashawn Hand – thinks Saban is going to let him get an engineering degree?

    1. Sam Foggins was a bball player back in the 70s, engineering grad. You knew he was never going to start a game though, just come in as backup. (so I’m kinda agreeing with you)

    2. Hand just made that excuse about the major so he could get out of coming too Tech! Can’t miss what we never had, Korwin Kirven my spelling may be off but he chose BAMA and how much has his name been mentioned over the last couple of years! If he had came to tech he would have been in mix this past season as a major contributor but he chose the name over what was really important!

  5. Lots of folks think the NCAA is some outside Nazi organization that rules over college athletics with a perverted iron fist. Guys, the NCAA is the member institutions – the presidents, the ADs, the coaches, the players, etc.. NCAA HQ does only what those institutions decide as a group. Stop throwing rocks at the NCAA. Is the NCAA perfect? No. Is anything perfect? No.

    Let’s get the Feds involved? That would be good. Look at what those nitwits are doing to healthcare.

  6. Ok here is my proposal and forgive me I only received a year of education from good olé Va Tech before I left to join the Army in 1989. Once we only had the AFL then someone started the another league then the two combined into today’s NFL. Since we can’t determine what’s best for these kids let’s just created some outside league for kids coming out of high school and since football and basketball seems to be the biggest problem we will start there and that young person and their parents/guardian can sit down and decide am I academically and physically talented enough to attend a college/university (NCAA) where I will have to work at both and be expected to do so (there’s that personal responsibility thing) or say I know my talents are good enough to roll the dice and go to this league and playing and be there for at least 3 years for football and honestly I don’t think basketball should be an issue because most are 1 and done any way you get what I’m saying. The two associations can play their seasons and then maybe play against each other for the Championship. But that’s neither here nor there I just love my Hokies and college football so there you have it either work hard to secure your future once your playing days are over (that earn college education) or hope your talents are enough to take you to the pro level and you make enough money to live a good life. This just a rough draft so what do you think of the concept? Yes I know the NCAA will have to fight this because they will lose that billion dollar money maker but if you believe the commercials about how important the students are then what’s the big issue……yeah right!

    1. Your proposal makes more sense than most I’ve heard. Educate the educatable and let the others go into what amounts to the baseball equivalent of “minor leagues.” You sure did learn well in your 1 year at VT.

  7. You don’t “GET” an education, you earn it. And scholarship athletes, with tutors and mandatory study times, have every opportunity to earn a meaningful degree. If the choose to major in basket weaving and blow that chance, shame on them. And the ones that go to the pros get 2-4 years of strength and conditioning and training table. They are not big/fast/good enough right out of HS to go pro. College athletics still has its place.

    1. If the athlete has a 4th grade reading level, is it his fault he can’t work toward a meaningful degree? Shame on him?

      It’s a farce to even pretend that athlete should be at a college. Even with tutors and mandatory study times, a 18 year old who reads at a 4th-8th grade level isn’t going to be able to do real work toward a meaningful college degree. Imagine turning a bunch of middle-schoolers loose on a college campus. Is it their fault if they don’t somehow learn? Or is it more correct to say they had no business being there in the first place?

    2. Good point….you do “Earn” an education. It sure was not “given” to me. I had to study and earn it…..shame on the athletes if they don’t do this.
      I get Will’s point but we cannot make excuses for everything & everybody….at some point a person is responsible for himself.
      If the athlete is given the opportunity to attend a class and he choose not to then shame on him or her.

  8. No doubt these kids are being exploited, in my mind. Some defenders will say “But hey, poor inner city kids, this is their only chance to get out”. Yeah, but what are they really getting? Whether or not they actually get a tainted degree, did they really LEARN anything? I suspect the answer is no. A college education has value only if the recipient CAN and DOES actually gain something from it. I’d propose that a lot of college athletes get nothing from it.

    I saw that Zumwalt kid at UCLA is still shown as an undeclared major. Really? I’d guess he wanders around and takes enough intro classes to keep up his GPA.

    I’ve sadly become a huge cynic, and I’m wondering what percentage of major college athletics (men’s football and basketball) is a huge fraud. I fear this is somewhat of a third rail, nobody big wants to really touch this. Go to Washington DC, and in the chambers of power, there are graduates from probably every major university. Lobbyists too. I suspect any real attempt to investigate the overall situation will be halted by those who have someone yelling in their ear to protect their alma mater.

    1. I’m kinda there. it’s not right and I consider it my vice that I enjoy college football but that’s sort of a cognitive dissonance, college shouldn’t be a sports franchise and when the time comes I won’t stand in the way. (Not that anyone cares what I think, but…) I wouldn’t underestimate the concussion thing either, sure the NFL is planning a payout to former players, but at the other end of the mill there may be parents steering their kids into other sports because of that.

  9. I thought exactly the same thing when I read that article in the Raleigh N&O yesterday (I think that’s where it was). I wondered if this could be the end of college athletics as we know it. I know that sounds extreme, but I really wondered that.

    Now wouldn’t it be the height of irony that unc was the ultimate cause of college football imploding. That sure would fit their inflated opinion of themselves.

    One other thing, as if THAT wasn’t bad enough. Nobody has more disdain for the toothless, pompous, hypocrites of the ncaa than i do. I cannot think on ONE thing on the planet worse for college athletics or life in general than the NCAA (obviously., I cannot stand them)…………..

    OH WAIT, I just thought of ONE group worse; the freaking Federal Government! That is EXACTLY what we need to screw the pooch…the stinking government taking over and getting their WORTHLESS MITTS on things….Oh joy, I’m sorry I mentioned it…….

  10. Honestly I don’t think the argument by the players that they really didnt get an education- and therefore they’re really not getting anything in return while the NCAA uses them to make ridiculous amounts of money- would ever fly. Regardless of where you stand in regard to the fact that the the NCAA does make a ridiculous amount of money (college football is a multi billion dollar industry) off of college players, that is the reality of the current system. If its accepted that the NCAA isn’t doing anything wrong…And I don’t know if the fact that the kids are getting an education is the “legal” reason the NCAA can do what it is they do. I don’t think it is, and if its not, then the whole point is moot….but even if that was the case: that because these kids are getting a free education, the NCAA can profit from them, and without that benefit of a free education, the NCAA would not be able to use them for commercial gain-that argument that the players aren’t getting an education because of cheating and academic fraud is a very weak legal argument and I can’t imagine any court buying it. Some people (regular students)get more out of college than others, some work harder than others, some may be in a more difficult program like engineering that requires more studying, and gives them a higher earning potential. Nobody could begin to sparse out and actually quantify the value of education one student receives versus another student, nor could any agency figure out how much education one athlete gets compared to another. The degree of academic fraud and cheating varies with each player at each school…. i.e. a star could get 90% of his work done for him while another player may have just gotten his grade bumped up in one class in order to stay eligible. I don’t think anything big will come out of this because it would be impossible to figure out…even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to make some arbitrary rule that you could cheat up to a certain extent and still get the requisite education for the NCAA to use them for commercial purposes. I know this sounds stupid but that’s because its a stupid argument. There’s a number of other problems with it, like players that leave early, etc. The best thing that could happen is that the NCAA and the schools themselves make sure there is no academic fraud going on and take it seriously. There’s no real legal issue that’s going to blow up the college football world here. I probably didn’t explain that very well because I was just typing out loud….sorry

  11. Your picture of Mr. Emmert, NCAA president is disturbing to me.
    Is he made of plastic, or did the botox fairy come a few times too many?

  12. Admittedly, I’m all about piling on UNC, but McAdoo’s case seems weak.

    “They pretty much told me … that I might want to consider that class and I really don’t have much time to think about it, so (I might) want to take that class while it was available.”

    There are just too many qualifiers in that statement: “pretty much”, “might”, “consider”. That’s not going to hold up in court. Seems less like pressure and more like a suggestion. Unless anyone actually suggested to him that he take these classes (or else), I don’t think this is enough evidence to indict an entire system, unless you use Animal House logic.

  13. This would be shocking if it wasn’t expected. The fun of college athletics are gone.

    It isn’t just the NCAA that’s implicitly in on it. The fans are indirectly a part of the problem through looking across the urinal and seeing the other guy is bigger. This jealousy becomes pressure to other fan which gets directed at institutions. Money is funneled, results are expected. When they are not a fury grows and heads roll and after awhile the focus on just going out and tailgating and enjoying a game is a thing of the past.

    There is no reason to act surprised or speculate if something happens, it’s when. I can’t wait because the bigger CFB gets the more ridiculous it becomes.

  14. The student athletes are getting the OPPORTUNITY for a free education. They have SOME responsibility in the process and can take advantage of it or not.

    1. Personal responsibility is no longer a valid phrase in our society. At some point, every company/school/body of government became legally responsible for the actions of the individual.

      1. Oh give me a break. The older generation always thinks the younger generation is soft, weak, gets everything handed to them. Your parents thought it about you and your grandparents thought it about your parents. It’s revisionist history about how “the good ole days” were so much better than it is now. It’s BS. It’s human nature to over emphasize the good while cherishing the past. You just have to be smart enough to see that and know that there was some bad crap that you’re choosing not to remember.

        1. Here’s your break: Perhaps YOUR parents thought it about YOU and YOUR grandparents thought it about…, etc., but most of us had parents and grandparents who tried to teach self-responsibility. Society is and has been changing, and not for the better. No doubt you are much smarter than your “Old Fogy” forebearers and never will have to worry about the future of the next generation. Congratulations!

          1. If your take is true, then who is really at fault here? Who isn’t teaching personal responsibility to their kids? By the logic of your post, it’s the OLDER GENERATION who hasn’t been doing its job instilling the right values in its children.

            If “most of us,” as you put it, had parents and grandparents instilling the right values in the current generation, then there shouldn’t be the problems you seem to think infect the current crop of youth, should there?

      2. Hmm- that’s not the way it works in every courtroom I’ve ever been in. Maybe it’s just the circles I run in but I see a lot of individuals every day taking personal responsibility and being individually accountable for both their actions and the events that happen in their lives.

    2. Solid point, and some others make it elsewhere in the comments thread.

      In the legal battle, it’s going to come down to lawyers on each side arguing about how much of a role the responsibility of the athlete to educate him or herself plays in this.

      The “don’t pay the athletes” side will say that it’s the athlete’s responsibility to take advantage of that opportunity.

      The “pay the athletes” side will place blame on the institutions for not educating the athletes.

    3. I mostly agree with you, but consider the following situation.

      Player A is not terribly academically inclined, but has decided that he IS going to use this opportunity to get a meaninful degree. He picks a more challenging (and better paying after school) major, and then does take advantage of the extra tutoring, etc. available to athletes. His academic workload causes him to miss some of the “Volunatry” off season workout sessions. He drops some on the depth chart. Since athletic scholarships are 1 year renewable grants, not 4 or 5 year committments, this actual student athlete has his scholarship pulled to make room for a ‘better player’.

      Or pretend/assume that the player is academically talented enough to succeed….but not with the number of hours he has to put in for his sport. He puts the sport first and the only way he can stay eligible is to take the gimme courses, even though he wants to work on a more legitimate degree and COULD succeed in that degree if he wasn’t putting in so much required and ‘voluntary’ time into his sport.

      In other words, yeah, I want to see more athletes who can compete in the classroom and who do take responsibility for their own future, BUT I can make a darn good argument on the “they’re being exploited” side as well.

    4. The problem is, if you took a bunch of 4th graders to a college, and said “Okay, you have intro psych at 8 am, calculus at 9 am, etc, etc, etc…”, there’s no way they can manage to succeed. And that is what is happening…a percentage of these 17-18 year old kids are not capable of doing college work. Not sure it’s fair to blame them for not taking advantage of the opportunities, if there is no way they really can.

      Plus, the problem isn’t really that they’re trying and failing, it’s that people are CHEATING on their behalf. Take a pretend class. Take a special class for jocks. If you can’t do that, bring us your homework, we’ll do it for you. Combine that with kids who can’t even read at a high school level, I have a hard time blaming them. I have no problem blaming the system that takes advantage of their skills to make huge sums of money, though.

  15. I wouldn’t say the athletes get “a free education.” What they get is a free opportunity at an education. Actually becoming educated is up to them.

    Heck, if anything, the same thing can be said about their athletic career as well. They aren’t given playing time, or glory, or fame, or anything else that comes along with playing a sport. They are given an opportunity to earn all of that with their own combination of hard work and natural talent.

    Being successful in college (academically or athletically) is up to the individual. The college can provide the resources and support to help, but ultimately your success is up to you.

    1. Yes they have to opportunity to go to class anytime that they want before 2PM and when not traveling to away games during the week. Nobody is saying that the kids don’t have a shared responsibility in their education, but the system is not tilted in their favor. They are THE PRODUCT in an entertainment industry in which they get no monetary compensation and everyone else involved does, from Coaches, administrators, trainers, NCAA employees, broadcasters, journalist, etc. It is an brilliant setup for everyone but the kids. Sure some are young and enjoy the game and play it jsut for the love of the game, but it is a business.

      That is one of the reasons that I get so worked up about the idea of coaches revoking scholarships from athletes that aren’t performing up the the level the coaches want.

      I think that All athletic scholarships should be LIFETIME academic scholarships. Anytime that athlete wants to return to school and has the time to actually dedicate to their studies, those classes are paid for.

      1. and athletes get priority registration and a lot of academic support that non-athletes don’t get

        I’m not going to say I’m a fan of revoking scholarships by any means, but academic scholarships are often similar. It may appear as a multi-year deal up front, but there are conditions that must be met to keep it. You get a scholarship based on your academic prowess and then don’t perform well enough, you lose the scholarship. You get a scholarship on your ability to ball and then don’t perform well enough, you lose the scholarship. One is more subjective and the power is far more centralized, but the concept is the same.

  16. The primary purpose of universities is to educate kids not field a football team. I have no problem with a rule that athletes are not entitled to lessor admission standards. If they can’t get in under the same rules that apply to all other student applicants, then they don’t get in. Eliminating athletic scholarships completely is another consideration. I love college football but it is absolutely absurd what goes on because of the money involved. An interesting case in point is how Washington & Lee handled issues of money, athletic scholarships and academics in the mid-50s.

  17. If I’m not mistaken, there’s also talk of removing tax exemptions from the NCAA and member institutions (or at least D1 athletic departments).

  18. The NCAA today, to anyone with a grain of intelligence, is just a farce. It is a money making machine that is currently afraid to make hard fast decisions for university indiscretions because of the recent threats of the major conferences jumping off the NCAA ship and developing its own governing body.

    The current head of the NCAA made a big splash when he took office by making people believe he was going to reform the NCAA and come down hard on programs that violated NCAA rules and regs. We all know now that was just a lot of hot air as illustrated by the outcome of investigations at UNC and UM. Mark Emmert should be in Washington DC with the rest of the experts who promise so much and deliver so little. Just what the world needs, another hot air producing politician!!

  19. As Sunnyvale trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey would say: “Do you feel that Randy, the way the s#*t clings to the air? S#*tnado’s coming.”

    My apologies for the crude humor, but it’s what I kept thinking of while reading this article.

  20. Those athletes that are being “steered” to classes that don’t require class attendance are still attending classes that cost money per credit hour for the athlete or the non -athlete. So they are still getting a free paid education that I nor anyone else that attends college minus a scholarship doesn’t get. That should end the case right there. They are still getting a free education. They can choose what classes they want to take (any coach would be a fool to say they wouldn’t take a particular player because that player wanted to major in Engineering instead of some Art or Humanities no-show class) and also the student athlete chooses to attend the school that may offer a poor education. That’s their choice altogether.

    1. One of the Adibis came here with the intent to major in Engineering. If I remember right, someone suggested that an Engineering major would not have time to do all the extra stuff needed to be a competitive football player. Apologies if I have combined two stories, but I know someone was told that, and that they should major in that HRIM or Residential Property Management or whatever it is that seems to get so many athletes.

      Plus, a percentage of the kids that are playing college FB have a 4th grade to 8th grade literacy level. Is it really fair to think they can take a real college course and do okay at it.

    2. If majoring in engineering results in them losing their scholarship to someone who devotes less time to academics, and therefore more time to their sports, they absolutely don’t have the choice to receive the education.

  21. Next the UNC Alumni will be sueing the Athletes for devaluing the degrees they actually paid for. Damages could be astronomical considering what the Heels thought they were worth in the first place.

  22. What you call a “storm cloud” I call a “blessed ray of sunshine.” This system needs reform and it needs to stop chasing money above all else.

  23. Money has corrupted the whole ideal. While no one was watching, the NCAA entered the entertainment industry and fell in love with the millions they make on basketball. To think they can enforce rules upon a cash cow as UNC (a basketball power) is laughable.

    The commercials where they tout scholarship is a joke.

  24. So UNC cheats and hides things but in the end it will be used to overturn bad rules by the NCAA which means their self righteous fans will get even worse.


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