I’m glad the US Attorney and FBI are cleaning up the big-money college sports cesspool, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to America’s real corruption.
First, good on the FBI and US Attorney’s office. But I’m glad someone with a platform larger than mine is pointing out the obvious:
The four assistant coaches arrested aren’t victims, for sure, because they surely knew what they were doing was against rules, if not laws. But they are part of a machine that is powered by the basic structure of college sports. When a system has billions of dollars flowing into it — and the NCAA’s contract with CBS and Turner Sports for the NCAA tournament alone is worth $8.8 billion through 2032 — and yet has a major part of the workforce that is unpaid, well, then, how is this not the end result?
Yesterday’s announcement that the US Attorney’s office and the FBI are landing with both feet on corruption in college hoops was dramatic, for sure. But seriously, did you learn anything that really surprised you? There are names and details and the promise of more to come (there are some men in black suits I’m sure are wanting to talk to Rick Pitino), but it’s not like anything going on here ought to be especially shocking. The NCAA is arguably the most corrupt sporting body this side of FIFA. According to Business Insider, “[t]he 231 NCAA Division I schools with data available generated a total of $9.15 billion in revenue during the 2015 fiscal year.” And as the article above notes, the people whose endeavors the audience actually cares about, they get paid nothing.
I’m all in favor – always – of our law enforcement busting up corruption. And I’ve long hated the corrosive effect big money sports have on universities, which are supposed to exist for the purpose of promoting enlightenment and moral character in our society. So when the whip comes down on the pimps running college basketball, I’m all kinds of happy.
But in the grand scheme of things, this investigation could hardly be more trivial.
In truth, America is so far down the toilet already that as I read the details – Adidas exec spreads cash around via college coaches in attempt to funnel top players to Adidas-sonsored programs – I was actually a bit surprised that it was even illegal. Kinda like payola. This is the United Freakin’ States – this isn’t corruption, this is marketing. It’s just business.
In other words, I’ve gotten so accustomed to life in the cesspool I’m oblivious to the stench of the water. It doesn’t even occur to me anymore that garden-variety bribery and fraud are or would be illegal. After all, we live in a nation where bribery and influence peddling aren’t just legal, they’re sanctioned and codified.
Wait – did I say “bribery and influence peddling”? I’m sorry, I meant “lobbying.” In 2016, there were over 11,000 registered lobbyists and the total amount spent … “informing” … government officials about the perspectives of various deep-pocketed organizations was around $3.15 billion.
After all, corporations are citizens and money is speech. Your top spenders so far in 2017 are:
Lobbying Client Total US Chamber of Commerce $39,960,000 National Assn of Realtors $21,132,697 Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America $14,227,500 American Medical Assn $12,455,000 Blue Cross/Blue Shield $12,299,100 American Hospital Assn $10,625,050 Alphabet Inc $9,450,000 AT&T Inc $8,780,000 Boeing Co $8,760,000 Dow Chemical $7,690,000 National Assn of Broadcasters $7,630,000 Comcast Corp $7,480,000 Lockheed Martin $7,432,900 National Retail Federation $7,310,000 Northrop Grumman $6,820,000 Verizon Communications $6,730,000 Amgen Inc $6,620,000 Southern Co $6,540,000 Amazon.com $6,230,000 Exxon Mobil $6,070,000
James Gatto and Chuck Person perhaps engaged in some underhanded dealings, and history suggests that someone very close to Louisville coach Rick Pitino (who was fired, along with Cardinals AD Tom Jurich, this morning) was in it up to his eyeballs (although Pitino certainly had no idea it was happening).
But none of them were trying to kill anyone. They weren’t taking anyone’s healthcare so a CEO could rake another few million a year. They weren’t taking school lunches from any poor kids. They weren’t making it nearly impossible for a bright working class kid to get the college education needed to improve his or her lot in life. They weren’t crashing the banking system and from what I can tell no one has so far lost their homes or their pensions as a result of anything these schools did. They weren’t exporting arms to the Middle East.
In other words, there’s corruption and then there’s corruption. But it ain’t illegal if the people who make the laws say it ain’t.
Props to Joon Kim, Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, for the work he and his team are doing to clean up college sports. I won’t lie – I hope yesterday was just the top inch of the tip of a very large iceberg. No telling how many scalps he’ll take before his investigation into NCAA hoops is complete, and I imagine a man of his ability could also find some dirt if he poked around college football, for instance.
When all is said and done it won’t kill me if the NCAA and all for-profit college sports are gone for good. Let universities get back to being universities instead of minor league sports franchises. Let’s have real minor leagues in all sports for players with pro aspirations, and let the respective multi-billion dollar professional leagues finance them. I’m certain a developmental football team in Tuscaloosa would do just fine, and if it didn’t, well, this is the United States. Let the market decide, right?
Then, once Kim has cleaned up the amateur sports plantation, maybe he can have a look at Congress.