The easiest way to introduce the subject of this post is to simply ask you to read his latest work, if you haven’t already. “The Shame of College Sports” was featured in the October 2011 edition of The Atlantic and can be read here.
Frank Deford has called it the most important article written about college sports, and Taylor Branch talks more about what he learned from digging into his story and the future of the NCAA below.
Taylor Branch joined WJOX in Birmingham with Paul Finebaum to discuss where the idea for his article came from, what he learned and what the reaction has been like, where things stand going forward, why a scholarship doesn’t really make sense in the argument that it is payment to a college athlete, what he would tell the NCAA president, how we can get to where he thinks things ought to be and how long he believes it will be before the NCAA falls apart.
Where did this whole story begin?:
“I went into my friends at The Atlantic last fall and said I was about to disappear into another American history book … but I don’t really like to disappear that long. … I wanted to do something to keep my pulse up and get it out quicker. They asked me for a bunch of ideas and I gave them to them. They said, ‘Do you have anything else?’ I said, ‘ I almost played college football and I’ve always been, as a fan, amused and puzzled by the NCAA scandals never seem to get anywhere. I’d like to look into the structure of NCAA sports.’ … I really didn’t know very much, but it was a continuing wonder to find out how we became the only nation on Earth that plays big-time sports in colleges.”
What did you come out of the story feeling like and describe what the reaction has been like:
“I would put it in two quick ways. Number one, the NCAA is falling apart of internal divisions and contradictions right in front of our eyes. … The NCAA knows that the football schools are on the verge of a national playoff which is on the verge of taking the basketball Final Four from the NCAA. So it is coming apart legally and in every other way. And then on top of that, it never really had a secure foundation in principle, anyhow. We were basically calling the kids rotten when what’s rotten is the system.”
Where does all of this leave us looking forward?:
“Well, it leaves the NCAA kind of clawing and hanging on and it leaves the rest of us saying, essentially, to me, look to the Olympics. Everyone thought the world would fall apart of the Olympics went professional for the players, and it didn’t. In fact the Olympics is better. These athletes deserve a place at the table.”
Have you heard anything from the officials that matter?:
“A Sports Illustrated columnist took me to task saying they’re already paid because they get a scholarship, which to me is fine. But if you’re willing to say that anybody who has health insurance doesn’t deserve a salary. It doesn’t answer the question of that. … These elite athletes, and I’m not just talking about the stars, I’m talking about the linemen — even the second-string guard at Auburn is generating money for this university and is subsidizing the volleyball teams and the soccer teams and all these others without even a thank you.”
If the NCAA president called you in for a meeting, what would you tell him?:
“Basically, what I would tell him is he has to choose whether he wants to fight hard for amateurism and the right to hang on to all of this money for as long as possible and risk having the whole thing just fall apart, or whether he wants to start reforming and saying we’re not going to enforce these amateurism rules anymore, we’re going to have an orderly system where we bring the athletes to the table.”
How do we get from where we are to where you think it ought to be?:
“The Olympics, the basic thing that changed the Olympics was the Olympic athletes were granted a 20-percent voting representation on all the 39 committees that govern Olympic sports in the United State. And that spread around the world. … The NCAA, at its next convention, should debate bringing athletes and their representatives in to the NCAA convention. It’s downright un-American to have an organization that presumes to govern people without having them represented. … They’ve got to bring the athletes to the table like adult citizens.”
How close are we to the NCAA falling apart and what will happen then?:
“Well, I don’t know. I say that because I think it is inherently week. But it’s also true that the NCAA is pretty sturdy. … They lost some lawsuits over their rules that agents can’t even represent players, but then they fought back and won. They are resilient, they are powerful. If they want to fight it out to the end, it may last a long time. … People are noticing the contradictions, the hypocrisy, that sort of thing. I don’t think it can last too much longer. I’m saying within five years schools are going to revolt. … And the conferences are going to revolt. Conference commissioners are the ones who really run college sports today and the NCAA is tagging along.”