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Here's your cure, Emmert: Take the hypocritical oath

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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More and more people in the rapidly growing field of free-range punditry are advocating that college athletes be paid. A few, most notably the gentle Amishman Jason Whitlock, have been calling for full-on revolution against the NCAA.

HBO is punching a new hole in the way Auburn apparently did business under Tommy Tuberville, and the Arizona Republic just overthrew the government of the Fiesta Bowl, as we discussed in our most recent sermon.

Yes, it's a bad time to be an advocate for college athletics, and with the last huge event of the college calendar, the Final Four, the timing of the growing dissatisfaction is particularly noisome for NCAA president Mark (Let 'Em Eat Power Bars) Emmert.

Vince McMahon wrote the book about turning the tables on critics. (Getty Images)  
Vince McMahon wrote the book about turning the tables on critics. (Getty Images)  
Too bad. Because there is a solution for college sports' perception problems here, and having seen how well it worked for Vince McMahon, Emmert's failure to see it is actually somewhat dismaying.

It's easy. He should simply come out in favor of hypocrisy and be done with it.

McMahon, who as we all know is the perfect model of the modern screw-you-I-got-mine CEO, both in his stage presence and behind-the-scenes market-strangling, did it when there was a move by some lawmakers to regulate the wrestling industry -- much of which is controlled by him -- by using statutes on the books that pertain to athletic endeavors. He said, "OK, we're not a sport, we're entertainment," and that was that. The crowds didn't care if he had called it a gigantic multi-city quilting bee, and McMahon kept raking in cash.

This is Emmert's way out, and it's so obvious we wonder why he hasn't considered it before now.

Basically, he should drag his square jaw and earnest demeanor and say before a bank of microphones, "Yeah, we're hypocrites. And we're going to stay hypocrites. We're the Indianapolis Fightin' Hypocrites, and get your season tickets now.

"We use young athletes to our best advantage and do not pay the best of them market-value wages. We let some of our best alums sneak around and slip it to them, and then we punish a couple for show. And we let this happen while preaching the overarching power of the unpaid and modestly stipended scholarship athlete because it's way cheaper. And we're just trying to control costs here, like everybody else.

"We use educational institutions for branding purposes, and cut them in for a piece of the action. We like it, they like it. Plus, it allows us to use them as fundraisers and lobbyists to raise money for themselves so we don't have to pay them. The money goes uphill, you see, and all good social organizations do it that way.

"Oh, we also use those educational institutions for their land and the stadiums and arenas they have built to enhance not only the athletic experience, but again, us. You think Michigan would get 107,000 for a football game if there weren't a piece of property with 107,000 seats they've already built for us? You think Alabama would be able to charge such high prices for everything if they played in an open field, come one come all? Please.

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"And we also squeeze money out of the television networks because they need programming, programming you have demanded and continue to demand. We keep a lot of this money and distribute a lot more of it to our member conferences and the athletic directors therein to do with what they will, because you have to keep the guys and gals on the ground well greased for any eventuality. And because we have the pipelines to the colleges and networks, nobody can start a rival NCAA now, can they?

"Does all this clash with our lofty mission statements? Of course it does. It always has. We're a business, not a sociology class, and as any good businessman will tell you, there's no business quite like getting other people to give you money. And we're not going to change a thing until the tax laws make us change, the economy craters more than it already has, or until you stop coming to games.

"I guess that means we will no longer be hypocrites, but let's be honest here, probably for the last time. A lot of people like the hypocrisies. They root for their illusions through their choice of schools, and far be it from us to have them disillusioned. They root for their piece of the action, they let their friends root for another piece of the action, and between them they keep the beer and snack industries afloat. And that's if we can't shame them into buying tickets or sweatshirts.

"Oh, and when a player gets money under the table and we get all indignant and outraged, we still know it's our money and our table. We just get mad when players hire middle men. We're their middle men, and they need to remember that.

"And gambling? We're actually fine with that, too. We don't want it to get to the players to where they're thinking of throwing games for money, because that's bad for the business. But brackets and office pools and the odd three-team parlay? We're ducks with it. We just wish we'd thought to monetize ourselves back in the day. Now we have to pretend it's evil, when in fact its evil springs from the fact that we didn't do it ourselves 150 years ago and lost a pretty nice revenue stream.

"So are we hypocrites? Absolutely. Have been for years now. And you can rise up and smite us all you want for that, but you really don't have another place to go for your athletic fix. The players come through us, our facilities and our media outlets, and there is no other road. We win. You win. And whether you want to believe that college sports is inherently noble and even pure, or just the pros without a union, either way we're fine. Hell, call us whatever you like. Call us the Real Housewives of Indianapolis if it makes you happy.

"But we'll see you Saturday for the Royal Rumble ... oops, sorry. We were reading off Vince's talking points there. We kind of cribbed his speech. Let him sue us. Public domain, pal.

"Anyway, go team. And don't forget to patronize our sponsors so we can buy the kids books and computers for their homework and weight machines."

See? Problem solved, and Emmert can get back to those regular nights' sleep without worrying about peasants at the gates or politicians introducing resolutions that go nowhere. Now on to peace in the Middle East -- right after the women's final on Tuesday.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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