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Rice case shows NCAA power corrupts
There’s an immoral and dangerous power imbalance at the root of all the NCAA corruption.
The athletes, the revenue-generators, the young people deemed too precious to be burdened by the dollars they produce, have absolutely no power and no watchdog institutions looking out for their welfare.
The coaches, the administrators, the men and women showering their kids and their families with the wealth acquired from the labor of shamateur athletes, have absolutely all the power and the fourth estate in their hip pocket.
That’s why Rutgers initially thought it could get away with slapping its basketball coach Mike Rice on the wrist for his serial, physically and verbally abusive behavior toward his players. Editor's note: Rutgers fired Rice on Wednesday morning, one day after video of his abuse surfaced publicly.
After watching hours of video footage of Rice hitting his players with basketballs, kicking them, shoving them, cursing them with slurs and hearing one of Rice’s assistant coaches complain about the abuse, Rutgers did what any self-aware, NCAA-governed institution would do.
First, Rutgers chose to not renew the contract of the squealing, trouble-making assistant coach, former NBA point guard Eric Murdock, and then the upstanding New Jersey university suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000. Problem solved.
It’s not like Murdock covered up for his players getting free tattoos from a shady character or looked the other way when a booster gave some poor kid’s family 50 grand and a cushy job. Murdock committed no crime.
Treating kids like human chattel is sanctioned by the NCAA.
Don’t take my word for it. Let’s take the word of Walter Byers, the architect of the modern NCAA. I take absolute delight in reminding you of what Byers wrote in his memoir, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes.”
“Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”
Absolute power corrupts. There should be no surprise that all-powerful institutions in pursuit of dollars would tolerate the abuse of young people. Penn State and Jerry Sandusky, anyone?
Now let’s look. Mike Rice was getting away with kicking the (spit) out of his ballplayers. That’s a misdemeanor that cost him three games. Had one of those Rutgers players tired of the abuse and decided to transfer to another Division I institution where he might get treated with a modicum of respect, the NCAA would consider that a felony crime worthy of a one-year suspension of play.
There’s a power imbalance, and it’s not just economic.
What must happen for school presidents to address this imbalance? You don’t have to be very smart or have the sharpest vision to see the corrosion of values driven by multi-billion-dollar television contracts laid at the feet of athletic administrators and coaches.
This isn’t any different from Wall Street. The one percent, the privileged, the few, can’t discipline themselves in a room full of naked Benjamin Franklins. Could you?
They need help. It’s obvious school presidents are rolling in a bed of Benjamins, too.
Our politicians are going to have to step in. I’m glad my favorite governor, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, spoke up today.
“Governor Christie saw the video today for the first time and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior,” a Christie spokesman said in a written statement.
I’d much rather hear President Obama, the man with the love affair for basketball, speak out on this issue than see him fill out another NCAA Tournament gambling bracket for Andy Katz.
If our politicians don’t step in here, this Rice fiasco will be pointed to as an aberration rather than a symptom of a far bigger problem. During a nine-year NBA career, Eric Murdock earned more than $12 million. I don’t know his financial situation, but he’s probably not the stereotypical college assistant coach. He’s probably a little more worldly, a little more confident and a little less compromised than the typical assistant. Most assistants would keep their mouths shut, collect a check and look for another job. Most assistants would never tell the athletic director what they witnessed, and they’d definitely avoid cooperating with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
Doing the right thing is far too risky. It will be difficult for Murdock to find another coaching job. Critics are already complaining that Murdock worked with ESPN solely to legitimize his wrongful termination lawsuit. I don’t care what Murdock’s motivation is. I hope he wins millions of dollars from Rutgers. Murdock did the right thing. If doing the right thing benefits him, God bless America.
No one complains when “investigative” sports writers win awards, score pay raises and get job offers for serving as NCAA enforcement staff volunteers, upholding rules that Walter Byers analogized to slavery. Catching shamateur athletes profiting from their labor is one of the best hustles in sports writing. (So was catching slaves during slavery.)
Had Rice taken some of his own cash and bought some poor recruit a meal and a few clothes, he would be run out of college basketball and labeled a “dirty crook” by the sports media. Kelvin Sampson was the lowest of the low for sending too many text messages and making too many phone calls.
Rice got three games until public outrage forced Rutgers' hand. The simple-minded will blast and single out Rutgers.
It’s the system. The NCAA rule book must be burned and made anew. The young athletes should not be treated as equals, but we shouldn’t leave them broke, powerless and without representation. That kind of imbalance in a free, capitalistic society leads to the chaos and corruption that is now routinely embarrassing college athletics.
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