Sunday, April 7, 2013

Up the NCAA

March used to be one of my favourite parts of the American sacred ritual calendar because of March Madness (now March and April Madness). I was a big Indiana Hoosiers basketball fan before I even went there--basketball was the civil religion of Indiana--so was my Dad. I was a student when IU won the national championship in 1981. Needless to say I was very much part of the Bloomington March madness after the victory over North Carolina and it was, I can confirm from experience, incredibly mad whether at Showalter Fountain, Nick's, Crazy Horse, or the Bloomington town square.

In recent years, however, it has become almost impossible for me to watch college basketball anymore despite my love (its emotion baby just like nationalism and racism and ethnocentrism) for my alma mater, Indiana University, and its basketball team. The players no longer really know or do the fundamentals. Defence is almost non-existent. Free throws are missed far too often particularly in critical situations. There is way too much hot dogging. And to top it off the officiating may be even worse than the play itself.

Much of this, on the players side anyway, probably has a lot to do with the horrible NCAA/NBA one and done rule which undermines not only the continuity on the basketball court but the notion that the "kids" go to school to get an education. Kentucky and John Calipari I am particularly thinking of you here. On the officiating side at least some of the problem, probably most of it, with officiating is a product of the fact that the NCAA is too cheap to hire its officials and give them what any humane corporation, even a cartel like the NCAA would, benefits, good working conditions, and standardised rules and practises. College basketball referees are independent contractors and as such are often used, exploited, abused, and overworked, by the NCAA and its member schools.

All of this makes it even more necessary than it already is to do to college basketball what should have been done years ago: take college basketball away from colleges and turn it into what it already essentially is, a semi-professional sports league. Professionalising already professionalised college athletics like football and basketball would have the added advantage of allowing us to get rid of what is even worse than college basketball play and its officiating problems, the NCAA, the "governing" body of college sports including basketball, and its fiction of "student-athletes", a category created by the NCAA and colleges so they didn't have to pay "students" injured on fields, courts, pitches workman's compensation. Then we could do what should have been done years ago: pay the players with some of the millions the pathetic NCAA exploits from them. It is simply criminal that today the players aren't paid while elite coaches earn hundreds of thousands in salaries and millions in contracts from private sports oriented conglomerates like Adidas and Nike and colleges and universities and the NCAA earn millions by exploiting the "student-athletes" they claim to serve and protect. Getting rid of the NCAA, I suspect, would not only improve the plight of the athlete but would also improve the product and the officiating. And it might also improve the view for those who actually attend the event. Big TV monies along with NCAA greed for more and more monies necessitates that March and April Madness basketball games be held in cavernous football arenas where you may be able to see, on a clear day, ant sized humans on the court playing what looks like basketball from the cheap seats.

In this severe form of exploitation the United States may be "exceptional" and I don't mean that in a good way, among the cabal that makes up the rich and powerful nations of the Western World. The US, in other words, it can be argued, is the home of the worst form of skank capitalism and skank capitalist exploitation in the Western world. Britain runs a close second. But even in Britain the media don't, as of yet at least, determine the shape sporting events take as in the US where interminable media time outs turn sixty minute games into two or three or four hour affairs so that the real powers that be, corporations, can shove advertising down our American throats and pay the NCAA millions of dollars for the privilege of doing it. It's as if sports has become a means and an excuse by which corporations can peddle their wares, real or ideological, to a captive audience for, what in the case of March Madness, is a sporting event in which non-profit academic institutions, academic institutions often corrupted by the monies and mania associated with college sports madness--UConn, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Nebraska, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas, USC, Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Memphis State and Memphis, SMU, UNLV,UMass, Ball State, Cal Tech, SUNY Potsdam, Notre Dame...I am talking to you--are participating in. So I say to the NCAA and its college and university administrative flunkies, up yours. You have been aiding and abetting the destruction of the American liberal arts college and university for years.

Further Reading:
Dave Zirin's Edge of Sports
Joe Nocera on the NCAA
Taylor Branch, "The Shame of College Sports", the Atlantic, 7 September 2011

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