The only disappointing thing about the NCAA’s demise is the slow pace of it, which allows the current crop of overpaid administrators to continue to scavenge undeserved livings off athletes who work 60-hour weeks, and who are called cheats if they accept any cash for it. The NCAA and its arcane 400-page rulebook, which criminalizes athletes for daring to view college as an avenue to professions, cannot fold too soon. To replace it, we need . . . what?
How about nothing? That’s right, nothing. What if college athletics became an open market?
Let’s look at that doomsday scenario. What would happen?
The first thing that would happen is that athletes would regain their rights — basic ones, such as the right to representation, the right to labor and the right of due process. Under the current system, they have none of the above. “They’re serfs,” says Taylor Branch, whose 2011 book about the NCAA, “The Cartel” has inspired a documentary that will debut Oct. 16, “Schooled: The Price of College Sports.”
Whether you agree with all of Branch’s ideas or not, his central point is irrefutable: No reform can take hold so long as the system is built on dishonesty and denial of rights. Amateurism is a creaking old code that dates from the 1900s, when Victorian elitists didn’t want to compete with the “great unwashed” masses. It contains about as much justice and reason as stoning women for losing their virginity.
“Everything else is consequential,” he says. “If you say that amateurism rules are and always have been bogus, and void them, then the system would evolve more honestly. No reform is going to work if we don’t start with the question of rights first.”
When actress Natalie Portman went off to Harvard, or actor James Franco went to UCLA, nobody told them they weren’t allowed to perform for money while they were there. Or that they couldn’t have an agent. Nobody told Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs that as long as they were undergraduates they couldn’t make any money from Internet inventions, or they wouldn’t be regarded as “real” students. Yet this is what the NCAA does to athletes.