Monday, July 26, 2010

NCAA-UNC Probe: The Players ARE The Thing

Ignorance of the law excuses no man: Not that all men know the law, but because 'tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.— John Selden, English antiquarian & jurist (1584 - 1654) (from
With all due respect to A.C. Snow, one of my long-time advisors on language, grammar and writing, if some (not sure how many at this point) college football players at North Carolina have accepted favors from sports agents, the guilt lies with those college football players, and not with either the enormous system of amateur games we know as intercollegiate athletics or the agents.

A.C., who was an advisor to the NC State University student newspaper, The Technician, way back when I was in college and beginning a writing passion, pens a weekly Sunday column for The News & Observer. His topics vary and are sometime folksy, writing about his love of his home area of Dobson NC or of trips to the Emerald Coast of North Carolina or about his beloved Tar Heels football and basketball teams about who he will be quick to write private notes of disappointment and disgust. His Sunday space is one of the early morning enjoyments of my Sunday reading of the newspaper, though sometimes I save it for last, hoping it to be an enduring piece, one that stays with me for at the very least until Monday morning when I might write him an email.

It seems that since I started writing Actions and Reactions nearly every day since the middle of December, I’ve heard less from A.C., though he tells me every now and then that my blog is one of the few he reads. He seems to enjoy my efforts, though he has reacted occasionally with his own style of constructive criticism, telling me straight up not to attack, especially those of known integrity, especially those at his long-time employ. I always take him under advisement but do not always follow his suggestions to the letter of the law, his decree which is more of a suggestion.

Today, I started to write him an email about yesterday’s column, but it turned into too much of a soap box to send solely to him. Today, I take to task his most recent proposition that the problems with athletes who break rules set forth by the NCAA (and laws of the state for that matter) are the cause of big-time athletics. While he surely did not write the headline—The players are not the thing—on the upper left of page 10D, that’s about as close and true a reflection of what A.C. wrote this week as could fit on those two lines of those two columns of space.

He wrote Sunday under the thesis that some believe the world as we know it in Chapel Hill is coming to an end because Marvin Austin, Greg Little and possibly others may have strayed from the rules of the college athletes game by associating with and possible taking a favor or two from a sports agent. I think the only people who believe the Chicken Little Theory (to which A.C. refers) is at hand in that sanctuary are only those of light blue blood. And, they are trying to get over it by blaming the agent and not the athletes who might not have known how to say no. The rest of us look at this situation as a comedy act, finally getting a laugh at the perfect world we are told that exists between Carrboro and Durham. Obviously, Chapel Hill, its participants and its followers have their faults.

But A.C. takes a wrong turn in laying the blame on the system and not the participants. He says the athletes are merely pawns (his words) at the colleges which he and many others think are farm clubs for professional sports (his words again). When you get down to it, most universities—especially UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University and others of the same level—are farm clubs for professional leagues of business: law firms, hospitals, engineering and textile companies, mega-agricultural producers, and, of all things, newspapers.

As time has passed from when I was in school with fewer than 10,000 students at State to over 30,000 today and as budgets increase exponentially and as salaries grow to allow administrators earn incomes comparable to a private business with budgets and numbers of employees as large and larger, we have seen unbelievable growth of educational institutions while at the same time a prostitution of the same. Universities—NC State and UNC included—sell their academic souls everyday to private business so there are additional resources of money and gifts-in-kind in exchange for “free” research and underpaid hired help available to help private business get an edge, to grow, to flourish.

While A.C., and our good friend Bill Friday, the former UNC System President whose wisdom and judgment is always sought when it comes to college athletics, try to voice opposition to the growth of college athletics, it is that over abundance and tremendous successes of college athletics programs that have had an huge effect on the increased overall interest in universities as a whole, leading many who would not contribute one thin dime to the academic side of tracks to give handsomely and wholesomely to the bricks and mortar and books and professors that improve what really makes a university great without the positive and negative recognition through the sports pages.

I’m sick and tired of the high and mighty journalists and educators trying to knock down what has taken years to build up, especially when it actually helps the institutions. I have yet to see 60,000 fans purchase tickets at $25+ a pop to watch a surgeon perform open heart surgery; I have yet to see ESPN pay mega bucks to televise one meeting of a university Board of Trustees or better yet a meeting of the NC State and UNC Board of Trustees meeting together as if they were doing battle. Journalists are quick to complain about the relationship between college athletics and private industries such as Nike which puts lots of money and gifts-in-kind into college athletics departments. But that’s no different than the mega dollars flowing from private business to academic departments of colleges in exchange for special research so that private business can do better, make more money, all at a research and development rate lower than what it would require in house. Did I say prostitution of academics?

Yes, there’s a lot of money that flows in and out of college athletics programs, into the hands of the coaches and administrators (hey, A.C., please write something about the ludicrous contract Debbie Yow just received to be the Athletics Director at NC State or is it all relative to what a CEO at a comparable size business would garner), and not into the pockets of athletes. But that’s the way it is and should be. The money is not about the athletes, mere pawns in the overall scheme of things.

The athletes do not have to attend these colleges unless they want to get a free ride to an education that otherwise would cost them mega bucks, many of whom could not afford to pay themselves. The high school athletes are given the opportunity to use the colleges as proving ground for their professional career, but they are also being given the chance to get a college degree, if they so choose to take that path. Most actually do; few end up as a professional in the sport of choice.

A.C. writes, and I quote from his last paragraph of Sunday’s column, “It is rank hypocrisy to ask college athletes to live up to the letter of ethical standards when evidence that coaches and school administrations are doing the same is woefully obscure.” Who says? A.C., you’ve thrown a wide blanket over college sports and basically said everyone involved who is not an athlete is guilty of bypassing the rules. That’s a strong and wrong accusation.

Also one who criticizes television’s control of college sports, A.C. complains about games played every day and at times that seem ridiculous. He dislikes, as do we all, the commercials, especially when we are at the games. He doesn’t enjoy the special relationship college athletics has with television networks. That’s the stance of most newspaper writers and reporters because those who take exception to the huge ratings of televised sports events usually have no ratings whatsoever. In comparison, ESPN, which basically funds a lot of college sports today, has ratings just a wee bit larger than The News & Observer and all the other newspapers in the United States put together.

If Marvin Austin, Greg Little and friends are guilty of breaking the NCAA law, there will be due justice applied which may bring harm to the success of North Carolina football this season. That would be Austin’s or Little’s fault, not that of anyone else, even the agent who may have broken North Carolina law by enticing Austin, Little et al. This story is about the players and their association with and possible favors from an agent, which is against NCAA rules and regulations for the athletes. Yes, A.C., we’ll keep it in perspective, but do not try to turn the focus away from the perpetrators by writing another rant about the hugeness of college sports. Its growth is no more out of line as is that of colleges in general. I stand by my premise that neither NC State not UNC would be at the high level of success and public standing they are today without the benefit of the large and successful athletics programs at each.

And, please, do not tell me the athletes just do not know the NCAA law, an extensive and complicated list of guidelines to follow throughout a college athletics career. John Selden said it very well many years ago: “Ignorance of the law excuses no man.” College athletes know there are rules by which they are to abide, though they may not know the exact letter of such regulations. However, considering they are college students, they should be smart enough to ask if what they are about to do is right or wrong. If wrong, let them be judged by their actions and not by their surroundings, no matter how much dislike there may be for big time, big budgeted college athletics and over-zealous agents just trying to get ahead.

In the case of the NCAA investigation into actions of several players on the North Carolina Tar Heels football team, the sky is not falling, but the players ARE the thing.


  1. As a lifelong Heels fan, I assign blame in the following order:
    1) The coaches for not educating the players.
    2) The NCAA for allowing ANY type of contact with agents as long as a player is enrolled.
    3) The parents of the players for not educating the kids.
    4) The players themselves for not knowing better(I think they know, just stupid)
    5)The NFL for not banning agents for illegal activity.
    6) The agents.

  2. Very well said. I would point out that at State ( I assume the same is true at UNC) the players are schooled each year in the NCAA rules as well as gambling, agents,etc. Any ignorance is from lack of attention or interest.


Would you care to comment about today's blog. If so,here's the space and your chance: