By Ken Reed
Well, here we are at the Final Four, where student-athletes show off their basketball skills for the love of the game.
Or so the NCAA wants us to believe.
Albert Burneko recently wrote a compelling piece for Deadspin, and in it he provocatively points out that there are no heroes in big-time college sports. You certainly won’t find any heroes at NCAA headquarters, “given that the NCAA is in the actual day-to-day business of stealing money from teenagers who do all the valuable work and giving it to old white dudes who do none of it, and thus has no right to exist ….”
Ultimately, the NCAA, no matter their rhetoric, denies athletes the basic economic and civil rights that every other student on campus enjoys.
You won’t find heroes at NBA headquarters either, because that professional league uses the NCAA as its free minor league development system, and thus, indirectly exploits the basketball players who aren’t compensated fairly for their talents and the product they produce. The NBA also denies high school athletes the opportunity to go straight to the NBA, no matter how talented they are.
Some people point to the greatest rebel of them all, Jerry Tarkanian, and call him a hero for taking on the NCAA in court and winning. And in many ways, he might be more of a hero than Mike Krzyzewski, who’s holier-than-thou positioning is hard to swallow given that he makes millions of dollars off kids who get a seat in English class and a couple meals a day for helping to create a product worth billions — all without things like workers compensation protection. It’s interesting to note that a Drexel University study reveals that the fair market value for basketball players from NCAA power conferences would average about $1.5 million per year beyond their athletic scholarships.
In today’s game, John Calipari is a major lightning rod. Is he the devil for the way he flaunts the rules and manipulates the NCAA system? Or is he a hero for seeing the hypocrisy of the NCAA model for what it is, bending unfair rules, and getting his players to the professional level as fast as he can?
Well, as Burneko aptly points out, Calipari is neither. He profits immensely off a system that heaps the risk on the players and the money into his bank account. As Burneko summarizes Calipari’s career:
“All the risk, literally all of it, went to the players, and all the money went to him. He’s profiting, immensely, off of a system that forces players to play college basketball if they want professional careers, and in this respect, he’s not different from the NCAA itself, not even one bit.”
From a purely entertainment perspective, March Madness in general, and the Final Four in particular, is a tremendous sports spectacle. But we need to separate the cheering and appreciation of the games themselves from the reality of big-time college sports seedy underbelly.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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