MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — College sports are broken and if they don’t get a complete overhaul, they will find themselves in deep trouble.
It has become professional sports — on steroids — and has lost the charm it once had. Its hold on the public is going to go next and this one you can’t blame on the COVID-19 pandemic that took the steam out of this past season.
This one goes on the players and on the NCAA, with the deep pockets of television’s assistance and the lure of the professional dollars being the driving force.
And WVU is caught in the middle of it all.
One might say it’s always been there, as far back as there were college sports, for there were recruiting scandals and players who would play under assumed names, so-called amateur football players who played professional baseball under an assumed name back in the 1920s and before.
Recruiting always has been sports’ dirty little secret, with a $100 bill behind every handshake.
Let’s use WVU as an example of what is transpiring and how its ability to control its own athletic department is creeping out of the open door of the transfer portal or into the NFL, professional basketball or even major league baseball.
Basketball season, for example, isn’t over yet and already the season was disrupted by the departure through the portal of Oscar Tshiebwe, Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jordan McCabe, while Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and now Deuce McBride, the glue that held the team together and elevated it above an average team, have ventured into the NBA draft to evaluate whether they should or should not leave.
In truth, there is no roster upon which Coach Bob Huggins can build toward next year for he can have no idea of who will be here, or who will be gone.
Football was no different. There was a coach vs. player flap even before the year started that forced the football team’s defensive coordinator to leave.
Players — some who had no complaint with a coach or playing time — transferred at will, including star players like Dreshun Miller and Tykee Smith among them.
Fans try to attach themselves to the players on the team for the moment, but they soon saw that their attachment to the players was not reciprocated, each announcement on Twitter or Instagram sounding more and more like a form letter, which in reality is what it was.
“First of all, I would like to thank God because without him none of this would have been possible,” wrote Deuce McBride on his Friday announcement that he was going to enter the NBA draft. “From the first time I picked up a basketball my dream was to one day be in position to play in the NBA.
“After conversations with my family and the WVU coaching staff, I have decided I will be declaring for the 2021 NBA draft. Thank you to everyone who helped me get to this point, I’m excited to go through this process!!”
Following a crushing defeat to Syracuse a little more than a week earlier, the carpet the Mountaineers ran out onto the Coliseum court had been yanked from under the fans’ feet, their heroes moving forward.
That is the system as it is today. Even major league baseball players have to wait for five years before they can declare for free agency or until their contract runs out or until they are released.
The players who are transferring, who are looking into professional careers, are playing within the rules. It isn’t they who are wrong. It is the rules that are wrong.
And, the thing is, which each passing year the players get more and more for their efforts. Once they truly were the downtrodden, picked-on athlete who wasn’t compensated for playing. That is no longer the case, for they now receive an education and tutoring, first class meals and facilities, room and board, and some stipend money. More is on the way, as the right to profit from their own name, image and likeness will soon be allowed.
Yet they are out for more and they bring in so much money — it’s measured in the billions of dollars throughout sports — that concessions continue to be made to keep it going as it is, with a parade of meaningless bowl games, with mock tournaments such as the CBI, all of it looked at through a funhouse mirror of distortion.
They still cling to the image that education comes first, knowing full well that is nowhere near the truth. If it were, would not the Ivy League be college football and basketball powerhouses?
The professional sports aren’t about to intervene. They have free farm systems in both basketball and football.
Television isn’t going to be of any help. They fill air time and their pockets through college sports, which make up much of their identity at what still is a reasonable cost considering what it would cost to be producing or purchasing non-sports programming.
WVU has made it work for itself, but the costs keep rising and, in the latest example of the changing times, WVU is caught at the forefront.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of NCAA v. Alston on Wednesday. The Alston is former WVU running back Shawne Alston, whose name is used on the class-action suit that would redefine ‘amateurism’.
The case boils down to lifting “strict limits on compensation to student-athletes, forcing schools to compete for top recruits by offering more than just scholarships,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Despite the fact that they already are doing that in many ways, Alston won in the lower courts.
This is how the Wall Street Journal summarized the case:
In its brief, the NCAA argues that the lower courts “erroneously redefined amateurism” and that “eligibility rules limiting athletics-based compensation for student-athletes” are required to “preserve amateurism.”
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Alston, schools would be allowed to reimburse expenses for academic-related items such as computers and science equipment.
Schools would also no longer be prohibited from offering student-athletes internships after their eligibility expires.
Although these are relatively minor, incremental changes, the NCAA has argued that rewards such as internships have been used as a “thinly disguised vehicle for funneling” student-athletes “professional salaries,” and that “allowing pay-for-play would ‘significantly’” affect the demand for college sports.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research from last September tht found less than 7 percent of the NCAA’s $8.5 billion in revenues finds its way to football and men’s basketball players through scholarships and living stipends, estimating that if men’s basketball programs in the top conference split 50 percent of the revenue equally each player would earn nearly $500,000 annually.
If the court were to rule in favor of Alston, it almost certainly would force the Power 5 conferences in football and basketball to form their own “NCAA” type of governing body and completely rewrite the definition of college athletics and the rules by which they operate.
Something has to give … and when it does there are plenty of takers willing to profit from it.