Some of you will no doubt nod your heads in complete approval of Seth Davis’ ode of joy to the wisdom and good sense of the NCAA and its current amateurism protocols, but as you read his “players have never had it so good and they know it” explanation as to why things won’t get any stickier in terms of a player boycott…
Yes, the “system” (whatever that means these days) needs to be constantly upgraded to deliver more and more benefits to the student-athletes. But many people are unaware of the extent to which the NCAA has reformed itself over the last two years to do a better job taking care of the players. Thanks to a new governance structure that allows the Power Five conference schools to take the reins, players are now permitted to receive several thousand dollars in stipends in addition to their scholarships to allow them to cover the costs of attending school. There are basically no restrictions on how much food the schools can serve. For the second straight year, schools are permitted (but not required) to pay the travel expenses of players’ families so they can attend NCAA tournament games. (This applies to the women’s tournament as well.) Also for the first time, there are seats reserved on the NCAA’s primary governing councils for players, which allows them to have a direct say over legislation that affect their lives.
The problems facing college sports will be addressed this week, as well they should, but keep in mind that most of these same problems have been around since the enterprise began in the late 19th century. College sports, or at least college football (and later basketball), is big business, and wherever money is changing hands, corruption is sure to follow. But the transaction that will be on display this weekend is worth preserving. No, the players won’t be paid like professionals, but they will be feted like kings. They have earned that by working hard at their craft, under the supervision of some of the best coaches who ever stalked a sideline, in concert with the best strength and conditioning trainers money can buy, in front of the biggest audience most of them will ever see.
… keep in mind two things. One, all those improvements he cites in his first paragraph there came not voluntarily from the NCAA, but in response to pressure the student-athletes brought in the courts and with the NLRB. And those kids aren’t so stupid as to avoid noticing that pressure gets results, even with a bunch as stubborn as the schools are. After all, learning lessons is what students do.
Two, as far as his last paragraph goes, those were exactly the kinds of things that were said about major league baseball players in the reserve clause era. Once that time passed, it was off to the races, and that included strikes (and lockouts). Given the level of stubbornness we see from the likes of Mark Emmert as well as the ever increasing wads of cash being handed out for mediocre to above-average results, it’s hard to see how college athletics avoids that same fate if the NCAA and the schools get their collective asses handed to them in an antitrust suit, players being “feted like kings” notwithstanding. There’s too much money to expect otherwise.
No, we won’t see a player strike crippling this year’s Final Four. But players have already struck, or threatened to strike elsewhere.
Too bad it’s still not the late 19th century.
UPDATE: If you’re wondering about my MLB analogy, read this story about the time Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale held out. Some of the quotes in there are eerily reminiscent of you know what.
“It was astonishing to me,” Koufax wrote, “to learn that there were a remarkably large number of American citizens who truly did not believe we had the moral right to quit rather than work at a salary we felt — rightly or wrongly — to be less than we deserved. . . . Just take what the nice man wants to give you, get into your uniform, and go a fast 25 laps around the field.”
Players skilled in hitting or pitching were not permitted to employ an agent skilled in negotiation.
“They had to go in and talk to the general manager about their contracts, alone,” Moss said.
“Players at the time were told they were lucky to be playing baseball. If it wasn’t for baseball, they’d be driving trucks. Or, if they were black, they were told they would probably be picking cotton. It was a very primitive time.”
Kind of like the 19th century.