You’ve got your CSI, you’ve got your NCIS, but they can’t hold a candle to this year’s biggest viral sensation: NCAA. It’s got everything you want in a story: power, greed, corruption, violence – and millions of people are hooked. If you’re betting on college football, this is the one dramatic series you really need to keep up with. Your bankroll could depend on it.
a Big Stick
Here’s the backstory: The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is officially a non-profit organization that runs the athletic programs of over 1,200 schools in the United States – and one in Canada. It’s the leading regulatory body in college athletics. And it’s been in a state of constant crisis since it was founded in 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to drop the hammer on college football if it didn’t reform.
The NCAA may be a non-profit, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting paid. Some people, at least. For 2013, the NCAA reported revenues of $913 million and expenses of $852 million – over $520 million of which was cash given back to the Division I schools and conferences. That left the NCAA itself with a surplus of $61 million, making it three straight years with a surplus of at least $60 million. Business is booming.
Of course, there are a few problems with this business model – or else it wouldn’t be worth gossiping about. We won’t bother you with the finer details here; suffice to say the NCAA’s “student-athletes” aren’t being treated like students or like athletes. This has been going on for quite some time, but we’ve reached a point where there’s so much money on the table, and so much attention being paid to college football, that this business arrangement is failing. And sweet sassy molassey, is it failing at the most spectacular level.
The tipping point in this epic disaster may have come on March 26, when the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the players on the Northwestern Wildcats football team qualified as university employees, and are therefore eligible to unionize. Officials at Northwestern are appealing the decision. Meanwhile, the debate over whether or not to certify is running full steam, with the school (and many ex-players) on one side, and the College Athletes Players Association on the other. That vote takes place this week.
College football fans aren’t necessarily interested in labor issues, but there was one very interesting takeaway from the NLRB ruling: Northwestern football players are expected to spend 40-50 hours a week on football-related activities – and that’s on top of their academic workload, however legitimate it may be.
I’ll Buy Me a Football Team
It’s this divide between the haves and have-nots that really drives the storyline forward. Let’s introduce you to the star of our show, NCAA president Mark Emmert. He makes $1.7 million a year, and on Easter Monday, Emmert went on Dan Patrick’s radio show and made the following statement:
“If I was playing college football… and I had an opportunity to get an education at a world-class university, all expenses paid, had an opportunity to compete at the highest level, get the best coaching, the best health care, the best training possible, I would consider that ample compensation for my being allowed to participate in that program.”
Judging by the response to Emmert’s statements, he might be in the minority. The very rich minority. But at least Emmert was willing to help out his student-athletes by removing the restrictions on their food. Yes, their food. We’ll have some more gossip about that tomorrow when we switch from the gridiron to the hardcourt.