There was a time when the sports page was a sanctuary from the real world. It was about games. Who won, who lost. The drama of heroics. The agony of defeats. Life goes on. It was interesting, even intriguing and inspirational, however unimportant. Big city newspaper reporters, who trafficked in real news with real consequences, often referred to their sports counterparts as working in the “toy department.”
Fast forward to now. Page one headlines recently chronicled a greedy, criminal nest of NCAA coaches, agents, sporting goods execs and high school basketball prospects linked to federal bribe, fraud and other corruption charges.
In the same news cycle, the University of Louisville ousted its prominent, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino for his program’s involvement in directing Adidas money to recruits. This came a few months after the program was sanctioned for providing prostitutes to recruits. Prior to that, there had been another incident involving prostitutes, strippers, players and recruits. Before that there was the sleazy affair Pitino had with the wife of his equipment manager.
Meanwhile, the University of Florida confirmed that its nine suspended football players were involved in a credit-card scam.
This isn’t about “kids” and “bad choices.” That’s partying late the night before SATs.
This is about endemic, incestuous corruption borne of billion-dollar TV network and footwear money and universities who must recruit game-changing mercenaries in basketball and football. That’s how they stay bowl-and-tournament eligible, prime-time worthy and profitable enough to pay obscene coaching salaries that dwarf what a college president, let alone a professor, makes.
The term “student-athlete” is applicable for cross country, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, golf and the like. These are non-revenue sports, and recruits don’t have to masquerade as students. In the revenue sports, however, the most coveted athletes can major in eligibility. Online courses, tutors and majors in criminology–the “phys ed” of 2017–help enable the system.
The networks and athletic apparel companies aren’t going to change. This is what they do for access and profits. This is what they are. Any change would have to come from institutions who ultimately decide their raison d’être can’t include athletic prostitution. But don’t count on it.