Mad­ness ex­tends well be­yond March

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION - WASH­ING­TON POST WRIT­ERS GROUP

The New York City Marathon is this week­end, and thanks to the sub­way sys­tem, it’s now

the most ef­fi­cient way to get around the city.”

Seth Mey­ers “Late Night with Seth Mey­ers”

Un­til last week it seemed that the Di­vi­sion 1 col­lege bas­ket­ball in­dus­try could pro­duce noth­ing more ris­i­ble than its pieties about cher­ish­ing the am­a­teurism of the “stu­dent-ath­letes” who gen­er­ate, but get mere crumbs of, the in­dus­try’s bil­lions. Last week, how­ever, a New York jury em­braced this novel ar­gu­ment by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment: Bas­ket­ball fac­to­ries such as Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina State are ac­tu­ally vic­tims of the op­er­a­tives — rep­re­sen­ta­tives of shoe com­pa­nies, and ac­tual or aspir­ing agents — who use un­sa­vory meth­ods to di­rect “blue chip” re­cruits to the schools’ lu­cra­tive bas­ket­ball pro­grams.

The three men con­victed of fraud and con­spir­acy in the first of at least three sim­i­lar tri­als face im­pris­on­ment be­cause of this sup­posed crime: The schools men­tioned above gave ath­letic schol­ar­ships to five elite re­cruits whose fam­i­lies had re­ceived through the three men

(one of them a for­mer con­sul­tant for Adi­das shoe com­pany) pay­ments, one of $90,000, to pur­chase their help in di­rect­ing their sons to those schools, which re­ceive much larger pay­ments to ad­ver­tise, by wear­ing, Adi­das gear. (Nike and Un­der Ar­mour also com­pete for schools’ al­le­giances.)

Might the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s fi­nite law en­force­ment re­sources serve more de­serv­ing vic­tims? And why is it a fed­eral crime to evade the NCAA’s lack­adaisi­cal en­force­ment of its non­sen­si­cal rules by pay­ing fam­i­lies? About schools main­tain­ing “plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity” about the meat mar­ket in tall teenagers, Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Sally Jenk­ins notes:

“De­fense at­tor­neys pre­sented text mes­sages be­tween (for­mer Adi­das con­sul­tant T.J.) Gass­nola and Kansas coach Bill Self that showed the coach was well aware of Adi­das’ ef­forts to steer re­cruits to him, if not the method. Gass­nola as­sured Self that Adi­das was ‘here to help’ in get­ting play­ers for the school, which was fi­nal­iz­ing a 12-year, $191 mil­lion spon­sor­ship deal with the sneaker com­pany.” Not bad com­pen­sa­tion for Kansas-the-vic­tim.

Per­haps schools should give can­dor a try, pay­ing their bas­ket­ball and foot­ball play­ers as value-adding em­ploy­ees who cre­ate al­most all of the $8 bil­lion that col­lege sports gen­er­ate. Un­der­grad­u­ate mu­sic ma­jors are not for­bid­den to earn money with their tal­ents while in school. Ken­tucky coach John Cali­pari’s salary is $8 mil­lion, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski’s is $9 mil­lion, and 44 other head coaches earn more than $2 mil­lion, so per­haps some­thing could trickle down to the “stu­dent-ath­letes” who now re­ceive only tu­ition, room, board and small cost-of-liv­ing stipends.

In a Cal­i­for­nia trial (a rul­ing is pend­ing), some for­mer ath­letes chal­lenged the NCAA’s strict price con­trols on la­bor as an­titrust vi­o­la­tions that pre­vent com­pet­i­tive bid­ding. Amaz­ingly, the NCAA man­ages to say with a straight face: “Main­tain­ing am­a­teurism is cru­cial to pre­serv­ing an aca­demic en­vi­ron­ment in which ac­quir­ing a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion is the first pri­or­ity.” To which jour­nal­ist Patrick Hruby, writ­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Post, re­sponds: “A 2015 sur­vey found that ath­letes in the Pac-12 con­fer­ence spent an av­er­age of 50 hours per week on their sports and were of­ten ‘too ex­hausted to study ef­fec­tively.’”

The les­son of this tawdry story is that if you graft a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try onto aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, the dis­cor­dance will leave the lat­ter soiled and the for­mer in­dulging in shady prac­tices that serve the pre­tense that the in­dus­try is some­how some­thing other than it is. The sen­tenc­ing of the three men con­victed last week is set for March 5, two weeks be­fore the NCAA bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment, which CBS and Time Warner pay nearly $1 bil­lion a year to tele­vise. It is called March Mad­ness. Ac­tu­ally, the mad­ness is a 12-month-a-year, ev­ery-year busi­ness.

Ge­orge Will georgewill@ wash­post.com

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