I’m not talking just the arbitrary sanctions leveled against Penn State last year in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal through no other authority than the tidal wave of hysterical public opinion sweeping against the university. That was an abuse of power, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s obsessive attempts to control it’s athletes lives – particularly football players - for the “privilege” of playing a very dangerous sport for free to make millions of dollars for the NCAA schools has reached the point where it’s simply taking advantage of young men.
Take the latest “scandal” we’re supposed to be shocked about: Reigning Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is being investigated for selling autographed memorabilia, and could be suspended for all of next season.
Let’s cut through all the crap about college football being about students first and athletes second: college football is minor league football, period. The National Football League has an arbitrary requirement that players must be out of high school for three seasons to be eligible for the draft, a requirement clearly designed to make players play college football, as there are no other viable post-high school options.
Most of the colleges, meanwhile, don’t think of football players as students, they think of them as athletes. Bringing in a solid football class is a huge moneymaker to big schools, and most of them could care less about those players’ academic interests.
I’m not arguing here for paying college football players (although it would not bother me if they did). But the NCAA takes things a step further by telling players like Johnny Manziel they can’t even in their own private lives make money off themselves (by selling merchandise, etc). This is indentured servanthood at its finest: we’ll house you and feed you to make money for us, but don’t you dare go thinking you have any personal freedom.
Some will argue, of course, that the whole system is wrong; the culture that obsesses over college athletes is unhealthy. Perhaps they’re right - perhaps we should separate college from football and create professional minor league football farm teams. But if we do, colleges will lose the revenue, so don’t complain about your son or daughter not getting the soccer, golf, or even academic scholarship for which the football program was paying.
To top it off, I heard one ESPN analyst reflect on this possibility: if the Manziel investigation goes on into the football season, and Texas A&M plays him, they could later be required to forfeit games in which he played.
The team would be penalized games because a player, without their encouragement, broke NCAA regulations, and then they played him while the NCAA indicated he was still eligible. That would be as bad as the post-season ban levied on Ohio State for the 2012 season because since-fired coach Jim Tressel had the crazy notion that players should be able to sell their own stuff.
When the Penn State sanctions hit and fans of other programs squealed with glee, I thought: just remember that what goes around, comes around. Now it might be Texas A&M’s turn to face the crazy whirling machine that is the NCAA’s power trip.