NCAA needs to take hard look in mirror
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 23:01
Last week, Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote an article titled "Guilty Until Proven Innocent," where he criticized the NCAA's handling of determining the eligibility of UConn freshman Ryan Boatright.
Boatright, a 6-foot point guard, sat out the first six games of the season for receiving "impermissible benefits" (presumably a plane ticket). More recently, on Jan. 14 – the same day over 400 friends bought tickets to see him play at Notre Dame, whose campus is a short drive from his hometown – he was told he'd have to sit out again while the NCAA re-reviewed his eligibility.
The organization is yet to issue its final ruling, but according to Nocera's article, the new investigation stems from his mother, Tanesha, accepting plane tickets from his AAU coach (reportedly a friend of Tanesha's) so that she could be present during his college visits. As you may have guessed, the NCAA considers this impermissible.
Unfortunately Boatright isn't the only freshman point guard in the Big East whose felt the NCAA's cold wrath this season. On Oct. 25, Providence College released a statement saying Kiwi Gardner had been ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA – a decision that came a week and half after the start of team practices and seven weeks into the academic school year. And, coincidentally of course, the news broke the same day he was supposed to make his collegiate debut in the team's exhibition opener against Assumption.
Such timing sounds a little familiar, doesn't it?
Throughout the whole Boatright-eligibility saga, one phrase that's continued to come up has been "impermissible benefits." The NCAA constantly uses the word "impermissible" whenever it hands out reports of school or player infractions. For instance, receiving plane tickets from an AAU basketball coach (the Boatrights) is an impermissible benefit. Having a standardized test paid for in high school by a non-family member (Nate Miles) qualifies as an impermissible gift. A coaching staff making too many phone calls to a recruit (Calhoun and co.) is also impermissible.
But exploiting student-athletes for millions? Apparently that is permissible under the list of thousands of NCAA rules.
The NCAA makes approximately $775 million a year in total revenue through things such as TV ratings, the sale of merchandise and ticket sales, 96 percent of which the organization's website says "benefits the membership through distributions or services."
Yet that still leaves over $30 million unaccounted for, a large portion of which is divided among the NCAA's 400-plus members. In fact, according to an article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education in September 2010, the organization's 14 highest paid employees make a combined $6 million.
For the record, I have no problem with these people's wages, but it's still hard not to laugh at the NCAA's hypocrisy. Sure, it's fine for them to benefit from the labor of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Chris Webber, Kemba Walker, etc., but if any of these players take a penny during high school or before they go pro? Bring down the hammer!
This was the case when the NCAA launched an investigation into the Michigan basketball program in the late 1990s, and found that a school booster, Ed Martin, had given aid to four future NBA players (Webber, Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock) that totaled $616,000.
I don't think this should be an acceptable practice by student-athletes, but I can at least understand why Webber in particular – whose "Fab Five" team produced an $8.5 million increase in merchandise sales in their first year alone – wanted to reap some of the benefits of his own hard work.
The NCAA was not so understanding, and the players and Michigan program paid dearly. Webber had his 1993 All-American honors stripped, Traylor saw his '97 NIT and '98 Big 10 tourney MVPs taken away and Michigan's '92 and '93 NCAA Final Fours were vacated.
All because these four players took an average of $154,000 from a booster right before they went pro. Which, by the way, is almost $400,000 less than the average annual salary of the NCAA's 14 highest paid officials (not an apples-to-apples comparison, I know).
UConn is expecting to receive word on Boatright's eligibility in the next day or so, according to multiple reports. If all goes well he'll be suiting back up for the Huskies soon.
Kiwi Gardner was not so lucky, however. After Providence appealed the NCAA's initial decision back in late October, the team had to wait until Dec. 5 to learn the final verdict: that he is ineligible for the entire season.
Who knows what Gardner's plans are going forward, but wouldn't it benefit the player and the team had he received this news at the start of the year as opposed to the end of the first semester? Perhaps the NCAA could use some of its yearly revenue to hire enough employees to make these decisions in a timely manner.
Of course, that's assuming the members of the corporation… uh, organization actually care more about the student-athletes' well being than making money for themselves.