NCAA: Still Stalled By 'Amateur Hour' Thinking

Aug 2, 2011

Next week, at some place in Indianapolis where time has been instructed to stand still, Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, will convene what is being called, without irony, a "retreat."

Assembled will be about 50 college presidents, pledged, it seems, to make sure that college athletics continue to remain firmly in the past, in the antiquated amateur hours.

The avowed purpose of cloistering the academic intelligentsia is about "protecting and enhancing the integrity of intercollegiate athletics," which is the equivalent, say, of upholding the gold standard of the government of Somalia. Will there be just one president among the two score and 10 with the courage to suggest that the empire has no wardrobe, that it just doesn't work anymore?

Emmert should certainly know. Both colleges whose presidential mansions he graced, Louisiana State University and the University of Washington, have been punished by the NCAA. But, of course, many of the presidents will be coming from athletically convicted campuses. It's certainly worth highlighting that the two prime incumbent NCAA champions, Auburn in football, University of Connecticut in basketball, are both current offenders –– UConn convicted, Auburn, already a serial cheat, under investigation again. If that suggests to you that virtue may be its own reward but see-no-evil is the path to trophy, well then, you are college presidential timber.

If the retreat would only admit that the reason integrity has flown the coop is because it is impossible to maintain the fiction that billion-dollar entertainment industries –– which is what ticket sales, concessions and TV contracts make college football and basketball to be –– simply cannot logically exist when everybody is making money but the entertainers themselves. Never mind fairness; it is against human nature. The system obliges hypocrisy and mandates deceit.

Yet a stated purpose of the retreat is to "maintain amateurism" –– even as more and more observers and insiders, including coaches, have changed their minds and concluded that the NCAA must acknowledge that the 19th century really did end sometime ago.

The NCAA claims that amateurism equates to purity. That is a canard; there is simply no proof of that. Otherwise we would have amateur musicians, painters and writers, and art would flourish pristine as never before.

The NCAA's stated defense for athletic penury is "student-athletes should be protected from exploitation." Hear! Hear! But right now, it's the NCAA member colleges which exploit football and basketball players.

Would there be just one president at the retreat who would speak the truth and acknowledge that the only true reason for amateurism in big-time college sport is because it allows colleges to get something for free with which to amuse the paying students and fleece the wealthy alumni?

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit