The Boxscore Geeks Show: The Iffy NCAA

As always, a big thanks to our producer, Brian! And at the start of the March Madness tournament, it's not surprising that our topic is the NCAA! Of course, we aren't coming with praise. We also have the show in audio form (some call that a podcast!)

We were lucky enough to get Jonathan Weiler(@jonweiler), Director of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and the author of the amazing blog "The ESPN Watch" on the show.

As a random note, our own Arturo may have had a screen grab of a bracket with Harvard winning it all on the site this week (ignore the words around.)

A final note, right after we recorded this podcast (meaning we didn't get to discuss it!), Dave Berri released a great piece at the Atlantic about paying college athletes. Even factoring in room, board, etc. Andrew Wiggins "lost" about half a million this year by playing college ball!

The Legality of the NCAA

We start discussing the "greatest minor league system in the world", which Jonathan points out seems to produce very few NBA caliber players.

The "student athlete" term came about as a way to keep schools from having to pay workman's compensation for athletes who got injured (or died) while playing! The great documentary Schooled: The Price of College Sports goes over it. Of course, the seminal piece "The Shame of College Sports" by Taylor Branch is a must read as well. Jonathan points out that all right-minded individuals need to ditch the phrase "Student Athlete".

In regards to the exploitation of college athletes, Arturo points out that "basketball players are being exploited, football players are being violently exploited." An excellent read on this is "Forty Million Dollar Slaves"

Two legal cases in the 1970s seemed to help basketball players. The Haywood vs. the NBA case allowed high schoolers to go straight to the NBA. And the Oscar Robertson case, which brought about free agency. Yet, decades later, we seem to be regressing in terms of athletes' rights. It wasn't until KG started the flood of high school athletes into the NBA, and David Stern put a stop to it. As the ESPN Watch showed though: high school players have clearly been able to grow and succeed in the NBA.

As a depressing note: a similar court case came about in regards to medical students being placed for residencies (think the NBA Draft for medical students). Congress passed a law to allow it, despite the problematic nature of it. The NBA and NCAA may face similar problems. Jonathan ends on a more positive note though in that the laws may be heading towards improving the rights of college athletes. Arturo points out that some schools are even looking towards unionizing, and Dave Berri has been involved as an expert witness in the court cases!

The Racial Nature of the NCAA

The comment that was the seed of this podcast happened on last week's podcast. Arturo noted that of the four major U.S. sports, two required "free labor" periods, whereas two supported play when you're ready attitudes. Unsurprisingly, the two that required forced labor were the predominantly African-American sports. As the ESPN 30 for 30: "The Dotted Line" notes, the pay may not be great in baseball, but at least it is allowed. In hockey, John Tavares was petitioning to enter the NHL at sixteen. Contrast this with the NBA, which is trying to enforce a minimum age of twenty. And of course, the NBA D-League still has an eighteen year old age minimum.

Jonathan pointed to a great article the NHL itself promoted about the success of eighteen year old players! The difference in perception of young players in these sports is shocking. Both Arturo and Jonathan point out that Stern very clearly wanted to avoid an "urban image". The perception of players definitely seems to follow based on their race. Both LeBron and Dwight have received lots of stigma for their "decisions". Yet, Dwight was very respectful in his decision, it was just reported in a biased fashion. Both players left money on the table, bucking the "greedy athlete" trope. And both wanted to play with their friends, which supports the team attitude. Yet, they were reported as selfish players.

Pay to Play?

One of the odd parts about the racial element is that "athletes should feel grateful" to get an education and a chance to play. And as the book "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" notes, this has a lot to do with the demographic being targeted (poor African-American youths).

Arturo points out that the problem is that the amount of money has become so large, this argument is getting less and less feasible. A $10.8 Billion dollar deal for television rights can't be ignored. Also, it's worth noting the NCAA doesn't actually need to pay players. It just needs to allow groups that are already willing to pay to do so!

Of course, competitive balance in college sports is a myth. Competitive balance just happens to be a convenient scapegoat to use to win labor arguments.

Jonathan Weiler has been in a few discussions with Mark Cuban in regards to age limits in the NBA. This is obviously at ends with the point of paying players. Jonathan would like systematic evidence of high schoolers being significantly worse than college-trained athletes. Arturo and Jonathan point out that a good way to "pay players" would be to help mature and train them. The book "The Blindside" actually shows that the NCAA stands directly in the way of doing this!

Come back soon!

Jonathan says he'd love to return. He virtually guarantees that this will happen by suggesting we talk about the mis-evaluation of Carmelo Anthony by Knicks' fans!

Arturo is very interested in the idea of what a real minor league system would look like.

Finally, next week Patrick Minton will return! Leave questions or suggestions in the comments below. See you next time!