The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Inquisitor

College sports is a business machine that generates billions of dollars in revenue for universities, the media, local and national businesses, and many others. The only constituency that does not make money is the athletes themselves. The athletes are barred from any compensation by a Gestapo-like organization—the NCAA—that gives new meaning to the phrase sanctimonious hypocrisy.

While college player receive no financial compensation, the NCAA profits handsomely. Its top 14 executives had over $6 million in salaries and bonuses last year from a budget of well over $700 million—all extracted from revenues earned from the endeavors of collegiate athletes.

The NCAA tells us that it must maintain the "purity of the game," that “student athletes” (the NCAA never uses the word “player”) must be above reproach. That even the smallest compensation is verboten. That players have no rights to their image and its use long after they’ve left college.

Colleges and players live in fear of the NCAA. They cannot question or criticize their vicious reign because doing so puts them on an undesirables list. They cannot defend their players who are accused of wrong-doing because it opens the door to further “investigations” and penalties.

Joe Nocera writes about the case of Ryan Boatright, a freshman guard on the University of Connecticut basketball team:
It was early in the evening of Jan. 13 when Ryan Boatright, the freshman basketball player at the University of Connecticut, learned that he was being suspended from the team for the second time this season. Earlier that day, he had flown into South Bend, Ind., with his teammates for a game against Notre Dame. The 19-year-old point guard was excited because some 400 people from his hometown, Aurora, Ill., were coming to see him play.

When his coach, Jim Calhoun, broke the news that the N.C.A.A. was still investigating him, Boatright collapsed in Calhoun’s arms. In tears, he called his mother, Tanesha, who began weeping uncontrollably. As I chronicled on Saturday, it was her acceptance of plane tickets a year or so ago that had caused his first suspension. The N.C.A.A. had ruled the tickets an “improper benefit,” and had ordered him to sit out six games and pay a $100-per-month fine to repay the tickets. What more, she wondered, could the N.C.A.A. want?

A lot, it turned out. Tanesha is a single mother raising four children on a small salary. The N.C.A.A. investigators viewed her circumstances as a cause for suspicion, not sympathy. For instance, she owns a car. Where did she get the money to pay for it, they asked? How did she pay for her home? And so on.

The NCAA has no legal authority to ask these questions, but it can (and often does) ruin the careers of athletes whose parents and friends refuse to cooperate. It is a regulatory body that is so caught up in its zeal to “protect the game” that its has become the grand inquisitor. Nocera comments further on the grand inquisitor's approach:
When I asked the N.C.A.A. about the Boatright case, the response I received was deeply disingenuous. Refusing to discuss the actions of its investigators, it essentially said that Connecticut, not the N.C.A.A., declared Boatright ineligible. That is technically true. Schools declare athletes ineligible because if they don’t, the N.C.A.A. will deprive them of scholarships, force them to forfeit games and prevent them from playing in postseason games. Most astonishing, an N.C.A.A. spokeswoman told me that the organization does not have the legal authority to compel cooperation from parents. Again, technically true: Its real weapon — the threat of destroying their sons’ careers — is far more potent than any mere subpoena.

Our country is faced with many problems, and there’s little question that the NCAA’s tyrany is small potatoes. There’s also no question that there are abuses in college athletics. But that doesn’t mean that the NCAA should have free reign to terrorize young men and women and the institutions that provide them with an opportunity to play.

It’s time for a congressional committee to investigate the NCAA investigators and to shut down the petty inquisitions that ruin lives and do little, if anything, to make the college game cleaner. When billions of dollars are in play, people will bend rules. That’s not a good thing, but neither is a sanctimonious, hypocritical inquisitor that has gotten completely out of control.