Commentary: NCAA Gives In on a Minor Issue for Student-Athletes


Commentary: NCAA Gives In on a Minor Issue for Student-Athletes

Is a little extra bank for snacks the same as letting a man earn a paycheck?

Published April 21, 2014

Eat up, Shabazz Napier!

Thanks to a surprising about-face last week by the NCAA, he and his comrades in the college sports biz can get a square meal. So what if they can’t get a square deal, though.

To NCAA president Mark Emmert, food looks like the easiest concession his organization and its leadership can make to them. Amid the uproar about paying an athlete, Emmert and the NCAA figured they had to do something; they needed to make some sort of statement about their plans to accommodate student-athletes, men who might have discovered at last they had bargaining power.

They have plenty to bargain.

Regardless of what some folks think, athletes are the show. It’s not the coaches or the crowds, even though they pack arenas and stadiums to the brim week after week, that are the show. It’s about athletes like Shabazz; it’s about him, man.

So the least colleges can do is feed a brother.

Now, they’re not gonna put a couple of extra dollars in his pocket, because, well, they’re giving him that high-cost education in exchange. Isn’t that worth more to a young man in the long term than a fat paycheck now?

Perhaps not.

All athletes should know society has already devalued their education. Their bachelor’s degree is a fancied-up high-school diploma. What their master’s degree is, no one knows these days. But it ain’t what it used to be either.

Against that backdrop, an athlete can’t see millions of dollars flowing into college coffers and to the NCAA, profits aplenty for everybody but him, and be thrilled about not getting a cent of it. Everybody else is feeding at the trough. Why not the star?

That’s what makes this gesture from the NCAA seem so empty. It’s the sign of the truly desperate, and the word “desperate” is about as accurate a word as any other to describe an organization like the NCAA.

Only the eternally naïve can look at what Emmert did in getting rid of what he called one of the organization’s “dumb rules” and applaud him. In the wake of the unrest Ed O’Bannon and Kain Colter are stirring up, Emmert and the NCAA found it impossible to stand their ground.

Oh, and Emmert, the NCAA and its membership had done plenty of ground-standing over the years. Or should the word be grandstanding? 

In doing the latter, they put a spotlight on a tiny issue, one that got little attention until Shabazz raised the issue of his hunger after UConn won the NCAA men’s basketball title earlier this month.

He said he had little money to feed himself and UConn couldn’t provide him food beyond what the NCAA allowed it to.

As everyone knows, the NCAA has not displayed an open mind on how it defines what are necessities for student-athletes. The NCAA is their cheap patron who decides what is necessary and what is excessive.

Athletes should decide for themselves what they need and what they’re worth, and they should be able to sell their talent for what a market will bear. They don’t need a rump organization like the NCAA to negotiate theirs.

When that happens, a star athlete like Shabazz Napier will never get a fair shake when his pay comes in the form of cut-rate scholarships, and then he hands the NCAA and UConn a license to exploit him.

Not one nickel for him to spend. But eat up, Shabazz, ‘cause they’ll let you get your cake on.  

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(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Written by Justice B. Hill


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