It might be March Madness now, but it’s been non-stop madness for the past 12 months, from assistant coaches getting arrested and charged with bribery in a federal probe to a former team doctor sentenced to quadruple life sentences for sexual assaults against female gymnasts.
NCAA President Mark Emmett last fall established a 14-member “Commission of College Basketball,” chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to look into schools’ relationships with apparel companies, the NCAA-NBA relationship, and other pertinent issues. They are expected to present their findings sometime next month.
Two longtime advocates for college sport reforms recently told the MSR in separate phone interviews that they aren’t optimistic about Emmett’s latest plan to supposedly clean up things.
“The NCAA is the Teflon don. Nothing sticks to the NCAA,” declared Chicago-based Dr. Johari Shuck, who works with high school athletes and their parents in making the right college choices as they are being recruited. She and Ray Jackson, one of the famed “Fab Five,” are co-hosting a podcast. “We are trying to connect sport with society in our culture using current issues,” she explained.
“The NCAA hasn’t talked a whole lot after all these allegations and charges. I really don’t think that there’s going to be any repercussions besides the people who got caught,” Shuck stressed. “I honestly don’t see any widespread changes because of all the money that’s involved, and because of the race issue.”
Speaking of race, are the four Black assistant coaches who once worked at Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Southern California sacrificial lambs for change?
“It also seems like that’s the role for assistant coaches, to be scapegoats,” Shuck affirmed as she recalled past scandals at Louisville and Baylor. “You got to have the Black coach to take the heat when something comes down. That’s the blueprint.”
“I have little confidence in the NCAA to respond in a meaningful way,” concurred Drexel Sports Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky. She once authored a landmark study on college athletic scholarship shortfalls and was a witness in Ed O’Bannon’s class action suit against the NCAA. “I think these things are troubling, but they definitely aren’t surprising.”
Staurowsky added, “It is equally troubling to me that African American men could be going to jail for behaviors that may or may not be criminal.”
Did the coaches break NCAA rules, which isn’t criminal? Or does involvement of the feds make it criminal? “If there’s any criminal conduct, we should be turning to college sport officials and not to the specific coaches and players,” the professor stressed. “We need to draw our attention to the leadership structure, which is primarily White.”
Shuck pointed out that greed ultimately is too often missing from the changing college sport conversation. But she strongly believes the commission’s hidden agenda is simply maintaining the status quo.
“Anything to get around paying the athletes,” Shuck says of this ever-present elephant-in-the-room issue.
The NCAA will “keep spinning its propaganda,” especially during March Madness, Staurowsky stressed. “There will be a reckoning…in creating a 21st Century model for college sport and finally solving the inequities between coaches’ salaries and the value of the student-athlete,” she surmised.
Both women predicted that the NCAA’s money-making house of cards built on the players’ backs will eventually come crashing down. “Even if one day they decide to pay the players, a lot of these [Black] kids [still] are not properly taken care of on these White campuses,” Shuck concluded.
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