Mark Emmert

NCAA prez addresses ‘exploitation’ of student-athletes

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Early this morning we noted that former North Carolina defensive back Deunta Williams, when he wasn’t accusing the SEC of paying for football players, took issue with what he described as “a broken system” as it relates to the NCAA and collegiate athletics.

“College football is a business, and the people who run college football are only interested in money and using the players as product to make money,” Williams was quoted as saying.

The thinly-veiled inference, of course, is that the NCAA uses “student-athletes” for their financial gain, a form of exploitation if you will.

Obviously, the leaders of intercollegiate sports vehemently disagree with that assessment.  During an interview with Bob Ley on ESPN’s Outside the Lines Tuesday afternoon, NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed the criticism college sports has come under in relation to the financial benefits realized by the universities and how precious little is funneled back to the individuals who are actually responsible for the on-field work that’s made the game, in the case of football, the second most popular sport in the country.

Here’s the transcript of Emmert’s interview, courtesy of PFT‘s Mike Florio (yes, you read that correctly).

I’ll tell you the critique that I agree with, and the critique [is] that there’s such an emphasis in America on athletics as a route to fame and fortune that it has skewed far too many young people’s view of how you can be successful as a young person. 

We surveyed our Division II NCAA men’s basketball players.  Division II.  Half of them believed they were going to make a living in professional basketball.  Maybe one will.  But half of them thought they might make a living as a basketball player. 

We have far too few young people realizing that the route to success in life is to get a good education in middle school, high school, and college, and then go on and do all the things that people do in life.  When we see a young person getting an opportunity to go to college, the $2 billion — second only to the federal government — the total amount of financial aid that’s proposed by NCAA institutions to young people, we see young people having higher graduation rates in Divisions I, II, and III than the rest of the student body, we see them having access to the best coaches, the best educators, the best trainers, the best tutors that help produce academic success like that.  If that’s the definition of exploitation, then I don’t know what exploitation is. 

I would have loved to have my kids exploited like that.  I would love to have been exploited like that myself as a young man.  The idea that somehow playing in front of a stadium with 70,000 people and being on ESPN SportsCenter diminishes you in some fashion while creating an opportunity for you to be known world-wide is somehow exploitation is a curious notion of exploitation.  I think the vast majority of your audience would love to be on this show, would love to have a chance to have their name known widely. 

If you want to be a professional athlete, there’s no better way to do it than to come to a high-level collegiate program, get the best trainers, best exposure, best coaches, best educational opportunities, and then go out and pursue your career.  To me, that’s a pretty good opportunity.

As Florio adroitly noted in our email exchange, Emmert starts off by claiming that there is too much emphasis on athletics as a route to fame and fortune, and then ends by stating (contradicting himself?) that the NCAA doesn’t exploit athletes because it provides a route to fame and fortune at the professional sports level for a select few.  Of course, all of this talk of exploitation and financial aid and pretty good opportunities boils down to one core issue: paying student-athletes for services rendered on the playing field.

The proposed $2,000 stipend, which has met stiff resistance from several corners of the collegiate sports world, is a fair-to-middlin’ start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.  At bare minimum, and as we’ve stated ad nauseam in the past, players should receive a portion of the profits earned by a football program for the sale of jerseys and the like as well as a percentage of the profits from video games that utilize their likenesses in lieu of their names.  That’s the bare minimum, and you can adjust your financial mileage accordingly.

The value of the education the players are receiving — or have the opportunity to receive if they choose to take advantage of the six-figure gift — should not be underscored, but neither should the value of their numbers and likenesses and such.  While we don’t foresee a day, at least in the near future and as long as Title IX is the law of the land, where student-athletes essentially become paid employees of a university, there will at some point be a tipping point on the financial landscape as it relates to athletics at the collegiate level.

In fact, a four-letter word from the NCAA’s point of view — “union” — is already being bandied about as a potential remedy to the perceived inequities of the current system.

It would thus behoove the leaders of today to get ahead of that point and prepare for something that is inevitable somewhere down the road.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett officially withdraws from school

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.

After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.

“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”

Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.

Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez wants changes to Big Ten scheduling

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Acting head coach Barry Alvarez of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on from the bench before the start of the Outback Bowl against the Auburn Tigers on January 1, 2015 during  at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin has been one of the pleasant surprises to begin the 2016 season but a lot of folks are not counting on the Badgers to remain in the top 10 of the polls after one of the most brutal schedules in the month of October you can find.

Having already played (and beat) defending conference champion Michigan State last week, Wisconsin travels to No. 4 Michigan, has a bye week, then hosts No. 2 Ohio State. They’re not done after that though, traveling to Iowa and then hosting No. 15 Nebraska in a stretch that should determine the West division champion before the month is up.

Longtime head coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez is well aware of what awaits his team and is no fan of such an unbalanced schedule.

“I remember when that schedule came out (in 2013) and I thought, ‘How the hell did you kick out something looking like that?” Alvarez told CBSSports.com. “I think you could take a look at the general strength of some programs and split them up. Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State have been good for a long time. Penn State Nittany Lions normally is in that group. Just make sure someone doesn’t get all three year in a year. That’s hard to do. That’s something the ADs are going to have to talk about some day.”

The Big Ten recently moved to a nine game conference slate which means an additional crossover game between divisions. Wisconsin has been the beneficiary of some weaker schedules in the past (Rutgers/Maryland in 2014/15) but seem to be the poster child this year for drawing all of the major powers from the East division.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany cautioned against reading too much into the Badgers’ schedule in 2016 and wants to see how the current format works out — but didn’t rule out any future changes.

“If I was an AD, I would probably be saying the same thing (as Alvarez),” Delany said. “If I was a football coach, I know I would.”

The conference has released the league schedule through 2019 but you can bet the next set of Big Ten games will likely break up some of the more historically successful programs a little more when it comes to division crossover games. Until then though, ‘On Wisconsin’ will have to be more than the school motto in October for Alvarez and his Badgers.