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John Feinstein Blog: ‘The NCAA Is Going Down In Flames’

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(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

There are plenty of people in sports who just don’t get it. Alex Rodriguez is never going to figure out that the entire world views him as a fraud. Johnny Manziel—who at least has the excuse of only being 20-years-old–isn’t going to grow up until the adults around him stop enabling him and make him grow up.

But Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, takes non-self awareness to a completely different level. One of the things Emmert has done since the geniuses at The Parker search firm in Atlanta recommended him to succeed the late Myles Brand as NCAA president in 2010 is surround himself with yes-men. Those who made the mistake of expressing dissenting opinions—notably Greg Shaheen, who had run the NCAA Tournament so well for Brand—were quickly banished from Emmert-land.

Which may explain why, after becoming arguably the least respected man in sports in the last couple of years, Emmert hasn’t learned to keep his mouth shut. The more he talks, the worse he makes things. He STILL thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and he can throw out any hooey he wishes to throw out and people are going to buy it.

There weren’t a lot of people buying when Emmert first showed up almost three years ago. These days, no one—except those paid to do so—is buying what he’s selling. Come to think of it, he WOULD make a great used-car salesman.

His latest foot-in-mouth moment came Monday at Marquette University where he showed up at some forum where he knew he wouldn’t get asked any tough questions. He told the audience that he could not imagine a day when the NCAA would pay athletes, laying that position at the feet of his fellow presidents.

“There are very few members and virtually no presidents who think it is a good idea to convert ‘student-athletes,’ into paid employees,” Emmert said. Later he self-righteously added, “If you’re going to come to us, you’re going to be a student.”

Really? Manziel is a student? What’s the over/under year on when he receives his degree from Texas A+M? The basketball players who pass through power programs for one year because the NBA insists they spend a year in college are students?

We all know that the term ‘student-athlete,’ is not only a redundancy but complete hypocrisy. The big-time programs have one goal for most of their players: make sure they are eligible to play. If someone decides to put in the time to stay long enough and work hard enough to get a degree, that’s fine. But it certainly isn’t the number one goal.

College athletics isn’t summed up best by the scandals that have been alleged at Oklahoma State and at three SEC schools recently or at Miami and Oregon in the recent past. It is best summed up by Andrew Gaze, an Australian who showed up at Seton Hall in 1988 and helped the Pirates make the NCAA championship game in Seattle the following March. As soon as the last net had come down after Michigan’s overtime victory over Seton Hall, Gaze was on a plane back to Australia. He made absolutely no pretense about trying to be a ‘student-athlete.’

When P.J. Carlesimo, his coach, was asked about Gaze skipping town—and the country—once the season was over, he shrugged and said, “If I graduate every player I recruit and don’t win, I’m fired. They’re paying me to win games. Andrew helped us win games.”

Carlesimo was 100 percent honest and 100 percent right. Whether you coach in The Ivy League or The SEC, you are paid to win games. Graduating players is just a bonus. Never—not once—has a coach saved his job because he has a 100 percent graduation rate.

So let’s drop this ‘student-athlete,’ line. It’s nothing but a lie.

What’s worse though, far worse, is Emmert’s assertion that his fellow presidents don’t want to turn these ‘student-athletes,’ into ‘paid employees.’

Earth-to-Mark: That’s EXACTLY what they already are—and have been for years.

Remember this: an NCAA scholarship is guaranteed for one year. That’s it. If you are recruited someplace and accept a scholarship the school’s commitment to you is for only one year. If you decided to transfer, you have to sit out a year, unless you can produce a grandmother with a bad cough. But if you go to an NCAA-member school and get straight A’s but you don’t live up to your potential as a player, there’s a good chance you are going to get called into the coach’s office.

This is how the conversation might go:

“Johnny, I know how hard you’ve worked to become a better player, but you know we have several guys ahead of you on the depth chart.”

“I know coach and I’m going to work really hard this summer to improve and…”

“Johnny, you don’t understand. We’ve also recruited three players at your position who we think are better than you are.”

“Coach, what are you saying?’

“Johnny, I think we need to find you another school—someplace where you’ll have a chance to play.”

“But coach, I love it here. I have a 4.0 GPA. I have a girlfriend. I can make it home in a couple of hours.”

“Lot of other schools out there, Johnny. There are other girls. Point is, I need your scholarship for Johnny Junior.”

And that’s pretty much it. Johnny can argue all he wants. He can say that coach lied to him about getting a chance to play or dumped him because he hurt his knee. Coach holds all the cards—or more important, the scholarship. Once July 1 comes around, he’s off scholarship if coach says so and coach doesn’t even have to give him an explanation.

That’s what some people would call a one-way contract. Others would call it worse than that. The point is the school has complete control AND, other than the scholarship, the players receive no compensation.

That doesn’t mean colleges should just start paying athletes. It isn’t that simple. But at the schools where football and men’s basketball bring in millions of dollars, there should be a way for those who help bring in those millions to be compensated.

I have always favored a trust fund: take a percentage of the net dollars brought in by ANY team and put it into a fund. A player can draw his (or her in the case of Tennessee or Connecticut women’s basketball) share of the fund the day he graduates. How much money will that be? Who knows. But let’s say it is $25,000. For those finishing college who are NOT going to be NBA or NFL millionaires—in other words, most players—that’s not a bad incentive to graduate.

And, if you don’t graduate in the NCAA-allotted five years for whatever reason, you should be able to come back at any time, finish your degree, have the school pay for it and not have your presence count against scholarship limits. There are far too many players who are misled about their pro prospects in recruiting who don’t graduate and never get the chance to do so when they realize they actually NEED a college degree later in life.

Of course Emmert and his colleagues could care less about that. They just want to be sure the money keeps rolling in. Why are the presidents against paying players? Because why pay for something you’ve been getting for free for years?

If Emmert were any kind of leader at all, he would stand up and say, ‘the system is wrong. It isn’t fair to the athletes and, even if I go down swinging, I’m going to try to fix it.’

Of course he won’t do that because, to quote Bob Knight talking about a coach he didn’t especially like, “he couldn’t lead Lions to eat red meat.”

The NCAA is going down in flames at some point in the not-too-distant future because it is a corrupt cartel run by bad people. Unfortunately, that day can’t possibly come soon enough.

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