By Ken Reed
March Madness is one of my favorite sporting events of the year. The upsets are fun. The one-loss-and-you’re-gone format is much more exciting than the long playoff season the NBA gives us. The bands. The crazy student sections. Switching back and forth between tournament games. It’s all great fun.
But during a raging pandemic, the true madness in college basketball is continuing to try and play when 2,000+ Americans are dying every dayfrom Covid-19. Each day’s death tally is similar to what we lost during Pearl Harbor (The Pearl Harbor attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel).
College campuses are ghost towns, as students are studying online to avoid exposure to Covid. When the country was experiencing its first Covid surge back in the spring, NCAA president Mark Emmert said there wouldn’t be college sports being played if students weren’t on campus. Well, someone must have pulled him aside and told him how much revenue could be lost if that thought became the official NCAA policy. Now, the NCAA’s policy appears to be “the show must go on,” no matter what the health consequences are for the athletes and the older adults around them.
This is, of course, more evidence of the grand hypocrisy that is big-time college sports. One of the NCAA’s primary arguments in lawsuits in which it has to defend amateurism is that college athletes are treated the same as their non-athlete peers on campus. Thus, they should not be considered employees of the school.
What a joke. A sad joke. College athletes certainly aren’t treated like students on campus. The Covid crisis has proved that. And unlike their peers in the NFL and NBA, college football and basketball players don’t have a union to fight for their rights and safety. They are simply viewed as revenue-producing entertainment tools for our nation’s biggest colleges and universities, coronavirus be damned.
“You don’t get a starker illustration of the hypocrisy than they are operating just like a big business who needs this revenue and so the students go home and get their education from home and the football and basketball players stay and play their games for television,” says Bill Isaacson, an antitrust litigator and plaintiffs’ attorney in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA case.
“The NFL is professional, and those players are making adult decisions and sharing in the benefits of that. But the college players get cut out. Amateurism just means that [players] are not sharing in the revenues of the business. It’s absolutely remarkable you could say, ‘For the safety of our students we’re closing our classrooms but opening up our football fields.’”
College football and basketball players are continuing to sweat, bleed and breathe on each other during daily practices and the occasional game that hasn’t been cancelled or postponed due to the virus.
On Tuesday night, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said it’s time to “reassess” continuing to play.
“I don’t think it feels right to anybody,” said Krzyzewski.
“I mean everyone is concerned. You have 2,000 deaths a day. You have 200,000 cases. People are saying the next six weeks are going be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad.”
To complicate things further, the NCAA has allowed a Wild West situation to take place across the basketball landscape. Every conference seems to have its own guidelines and protocols when it comes to how to handle positive Covid cases, contact tracing, practice and game cancellations, etc. Some schools have played six or seven games and others haven’t had a single game yet. Because Covid rules vary from state to state, some universities have had to take their basketball teams to other states in an attempt to keep playing.
“Something just doesn’t feel right about it,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said of playing during the pandemic.
You’re right coach. Something definitely doesn’t feel right about this.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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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.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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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