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.

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.