An unpaid billboard

This Sally Jenkins piece on Zion Williamson’s injury is so good, I could blow it a chef’s kiss.  It deftly turns the NCAA’s bullshit entirely on its head.

Exposure and mortification are what they deserve for cheapening a freshman year at Duke into nothing but predatory lending. This is what happens when everyone gets paid but the guy who is really earning the money. If Zion Williamson were allowed to be paid like he damn well should be by Nike, a faulty sneaker would not be quite so future-threatening, because, see, he was getting paid to wear it. It’s all very straightforward and simple. Pay him. But the men with no fingerprints won’t permit it, those athletic directors and presidents who have subverted college athletics into a rake-off while pretending to govern them.

When the sole separated from the shoe, it all became clear. The NCAA has managed to turn a Duke education into a risk that a talented kid just can’t afford to take.

What does that tell you? What does it say about the degradation of the NCAA, that it has made college so profitless for great athletes that it’s just not worth pursuing?

And, boy, do I love this part:

Duke Athletic Director Kevin White, a member of the NCAA oversight and basketball committees, certainly got his: He is reputed to be the highest-salaried athletic director in the country at $1.4 million a year, one of 17 athletic directors who make more than $1 million a year and one of 50 who make more than $500,000, according to USA Today’s database. ACC Commissioner John Swofford really got his: He rides on the backs of athletes to the tune of $3 million a year.

And, of course, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina Coach Roy Williams got theirs, multimillions in salary and apparel contracts. That, you don’t mind so much. They sweat and stress on the sidelines and take the public hits for losses or improprieties and have discernible talent, unlike those men with no fingerprints. There is a market for Krzyzewski and Williams, no matter who is on their rosters.

But without the Zion Williamsons, where is the market for a Kevin White?

Think about it. What is a college athletic director worth, without great athletes willing to serve as unpaid labor? Where else would he even be employable? Maybe the U.S. Olympic Committee — the only other organization that steals athlete sweat like this.

Maybe instead of asking what that second string offensive guard would be worth in the absence of amateurism, we ought to be asking that question about Greg McGarity.

Final point:

The irony here is that their pure greed may have finally become self-defeating. Williamson’s gasp-inducing close call on the court probably will cause the NBA to lower its age limit, something it reportedly proposed to the union long before Wednesday night. That means future players with Williamson’s ability won’t have any incentive at all to enroll in a Duke and adorn the NCAA landscape.

If the NCAA would give up its decades-long clench-fistedness, its mean-spirited court battles to control the earning ability of athletes, the Zion Williamsons would have major incentive to enter the collegiate system not just for one year but for multiple years. By all accounts, Williamson, a good student who came out of a Spartanburg, S.C., high school that sends all of its grads to college, is not just a guy who is walking through his university experience.

Instead the NCAA has made it too unworth it. If you’re a 17-year-old or his parents and you saw that injury, why would you willingly enter the NCAA maw? Why on earth would a great young player commit to playing collegiately under the current circumstances if he could go straight to the NBA? Because he wants to do his part to make sure Kevin White and John Swofford can order from the top shelf?

This is what the NCAA is selling to us — that an economic system is more attractive, more entertaining to fans than elite talent.  I throw snark at folks like Larry Scott all the time, but, shit, that’s the bottom line reason he’s getting paid.  Shame on his enablers.


UPDATE:  Mr. Conventional Wisdom linked to this piece with approval.  It contains what may be the most absurd rebuttal imaginable.

So those advising Zion to “shut it down” are being irrational.

And, thus, they’re being irresponsible.

Because if you advise a young man to give up an activity he clearly is enjoying and obviously loves, there ought to be some sort of reward for him in making that sacrifice. Ceasing to play for Duke offers none.

He’s an amateur playing college sports, but if he walks away, it should only be if he’s rewarded for doing so.  Sheesh.  Oh, and by the way, if he renounced his eligibility today, he’d sign a monster shoe contract within 24 hours.  Sounds like a pretty good reward to me.


Filed under The NCAA

30 responses to “An unpaid billboard

  1. Get off your collective @$$3$, NCAA. Get with the program and allow these men and women to profit from their name and likeness. Todd Gurley should have been able to sign autographs without being recorded in the back of a car. Katie Ledecky should be able to endorse products without giving up her scholarship at Stanford. Zion Williamson should be able to be paid to wear the Nike shoe Duke wants him to wear. Some blue-chip young man should be able to choose college baseball over riding buses in the low minors because he can sign a deal to use a particular glove or bat.


  2. mwo

    Don’t olympic athletes get paid during training and competitions? I’m sure it’s not what they would make as a professional but I’m sure they get more than college athletes. I’m still pissed about how A.J. Green and Gurley were treated and sold out by their school but Scam Newton skated.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ASEF

    Did you see the tweet from the kid who can’t promote a fund raiser for Jordan McNair, a teammate, without creating eligibility issues?


    • The Dawg abides

      I haven’t seen what you’re referring to, but I wish the kid would do it anyway and dare the NCAA to intervene. We’re seeing a major shift in public attitude over the ridiculous minutiae of regulation the NCAA imposes on kids. It’s coming to a head, and the NCAA will capitulate more and more on trivial issues like this that are brought to light.


  4. Mayor

    Remember Moses Malone? 20 + year career in the NBA and a consistent All-Star. Went straight to the NBA from HS. How did he do it then when now kids can’t? NBA rule change?


      • gastr1

        Well, and they changed the rules after kids like Kwame Brown and Sebatian Telfair were disasters without the personal and physical maturity ostensibly gained through playing a year on TV, against other players as good as they were, and in front of the country. But it was time to move it back and expect NBA teams to just practice appropriate diligence with scouting and interviews.


      • gastr1

        And Robert Swift:

        The thing is — and it will still be a thing– the NBA is a total f’ing grind. The European kids have played professionally for several years and are more prepared for the step up. But HS basketball is just bullshit. For every LeBron who handles it, there will be one who can’t. We’ll see.


        • ASEF

          The ration isn’t 1 to 1. More like 1-10. Or worse.

          Mike Decourcy (college basketball writer, Sporting News) makes persuasive arguments that college ball at elite programs with elite coaching and opportunities to play pressure games prior to the NBA seriously enhances both draft position and that second contract. For those 9 in 10 who need development before hitting than highest level.

          The 1-and-done rule was put there to protect owners from themselves, throwing money at potential. Money that the proven pros wanted going to, you know, proven pros like themselves.

          Which routes site kids into NCAA ball, and that’s where we sit right now.

          Best solution would be to legalize what Nike and Adidas are doing under the table – let them sign shoe deals out of high school. Problem solved.


    • Union Jack

      Moses Malone didn’t start in the NBA. He was drafted by the ABA and went there instead of Maryland.


  5. doofusdawg

    Get rid of one and done for basketball and half the issue goes away.
    then everyone can try to solve the issues surrounding college football which are different from basketball given the risks. Trumps”s 20% tax on that $400,000 evidently is not punitive enough. Perhaps it should be 70%.

    David French has an article you might like on National Review. Not that I endorse anything that prick says.

    Have a good day.


  6. Patrick

    Devils advocate…

    Wouldn’t he only get that monster shoe contract because his exposure and performance at Duke has cemented his star ability and #1 pick?

    Or would the monster shoe contract be the same if he was #8 overall pick coming straight out of Spartanburg S.C.? I honestly don’t know.


    • mp

      He had been playing on a Nike sponsored AAU team. Not saying his compensation would have been more 12 months ago than it is after the phenomenon he has become, but it would have been significant. All the sneaker companies have known about him (and his other freshman teammates) for years and would love to have locked them in to a contract covering college (if necessary) and pro contract.


  7. UGA '97

    She nailed it. Shut it down Zion! But no, that cant happen b/c CBS, and the shoe companies need these guys to play in the NCAA’s own “tourney of likeness”. F off Barnfart.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Go fuck yourself Barnhart. Seriously.

    The next time you work for free and put $100M that is coming in 4 months at risk, you be sure to let me know.


  9. Hunkering Hank

    If Zion is smart, he’ll be visiting Zion National Park before he steps on the floor at Cameron again. This is ALL about the money for him. And his NBA future – not dreams – his FUTURE. He’s a freak – in the best way possible. Screw NCAA basketball. Move on. Play at the highest level in the world and be a top level superstar. Coach K can coach you in the next Olympics. It’s a different story for the proverbial backup right guard at Memphis. He just needs to take advantage of the scholly and get an “education.” I think the market should just be free. Just get rid of the amateur thing. Let the free market work with regulation the need for which will make itself known over time. That’s America. That’s freedom. That’s what is right.


  10. reality check here

    Tony Barnhart doesn’t see any reward in walking away from Duke. He does not see assuring a lot of money as a reward. He thinks it is irrational to give up something he is enjoying for money. He thinks he should play for Duke because he “loves it”. After all the word amateur comes from the Latin word for love.

    Clearly Barnhart is a purist who believes an athlete should play only for the love of the game and any of us who think otherwise are irresponsible and irrational.

    If I gave a shit what that idiot thinks I guess I would have to start questioning my values because I gave up a lot of things I enjoyed over the years to make more money. Attending graduate school at night for 8 years was not about doing something I enjoyed. I did that, took business risks and worked my ass off so I could make more money. It let me get 4 kids raised and educated and earn a comfortable retirement. I am so irresponsible and irrational I would do the same thing again.


  11. Ellis

    Not getting paid? He is on a full ride to Duke University! Amazing school providing a top notch education, one of best basketball programs to build his resume, best coaching, incredible healthcare, top notch dining, living expenses paid, free tutoring, and contacts that are priceless. I wish I had been paid so poorly in college! Stop the ridiculous notion that these kids are being exploited. They are highly compensated.


    • The Big O had nothing on the spasms Sally felt when she saw an opportunity to take up the lib cause of attacking oppression and stand for the “poor children” being exploited. Who is surprised that she would neglect to point out they are compensated? She just doesn’t like the level of pay, what entry level person, or intern, does? She breathes heavy whenever a chance to take up the cause of any underdog against any institution presents itself. I am not a staunch fan of Nike, or the NCAA, but this narrative is flawed, imo.

      I will be happy when the NBA gets the rule changed, think I have read where they have proposed that ban on not signing HS players be removed to the Players Union. Frankly, I feel the same about the NFL getting things changed, preferably with a development league.


    • RG

      Thank you! Somebody says it. Kids are getting just fine. 1 year of building his hype machine at Duke is making him even richer. Silly notion that kids are not profiting from playing college ball. It’s just delayed a few years. Just like any other profession, it takes a few years to build your resume and start getting paid your worth. Same here but luckily for them it’s even faster. Tired of this argument.


    • Hobnail_Boot



  12. The Dawg abides

    There’s no way Nike will be outbid on this kid when the time comes, but I’d love to see him go with Adidas and use the shoe blowout to burn them. He could have the chance to do for Adidas what Jordan did for Nike, if he becomes the face of the league over the next 10-15 years. Lebron supposedly was close to a deal with Reebok coming out of high school, but Nike came back with a huge deal at the 11th hour. And his line is still overshadowed by the Jordan and Jumpman lines.


  13. The same usual folks agreeing with Barnhart and the usual ones, including me, not. That scholly is god’s gift to any person.


  14. TN Dawg

    Hopefully NBA lowers draft age to 18, so players can go get paid if that’s what they want.

    One and done makes a mockery of college athletics anyway.

    NFL should follow suit.


  15. Gaskilldawg

    If Zion wants to play again for Duke I would love it if he told Coach K, “I don’t care how much Nike is paying you, I am wearing Adidas from here on out.”

    Let’s see how important Zion finishing this season on the court for Duke is to Coach K. If Coach K won’t play him because of the shoes then Zion will know how important him playing is to Duke and Coach K. If Nike money is more important than Duke putting its best team on the court, then Zion should say, “Goodbye.”