The Syracuse scandal dropped from Yahoo! revealing the university had covered up some drug tests and failed to discipline kids. If you've read the piece I did on TCU and the school drug testing system you can probably guess that I'm not surprised and I don't care about this in so far as it being a "problem" goes. Ultimately it boils down to a non-story for people who've been around college athletics beyond cheering from the stands and quite honestly the only scary thing here is that if Charles Robinson is looking into drug tests then we're all going to get butt rammed because it happens everywhere.
So given that my immediate reaction to the piece was "meh" in regards to the information, I found Tommy Craggs angry man evisceration of Robinson over at Deadspin to be a bit much. While I agree that the story was a non-starter the actual work itself, as is always the case with Charles Robinson, was very good. That's what the man does, good work.
Now my colleague Allen Kenney over at Crystal Ball Run took his time to write a very solid piece in reaction to Craggs. Kenney, like myself doesn't see much of a big deal in the stories themselves, but he makes some great points regarding the establishment (NCAA) and the folks who report on the scandal within said establishment. It really boils down to "they're just doing their job" for guys like Robinson.
Kenney is far more diplomatic and rational in his approach than I am, but I think we already knew that. Personally, I'm not an NCAA guy and while I don't use the "slave catcher" rhetoric of guys like Jason Whitlock when it comes to the reporting on violations it really is a big ball of sensationalized tattle taling. They're calling in the tipster hotline with all the info so the crime stoppers organization that is the NCAA can swoop in get them bad boys.
That's not to discount the work of Robinson or anyone else that reports on the violations, good work is good work and they should be lauded for the effort and research and dedication to unearthing the truth.
Great, good for them. My issue is that in all of this it does create the bad vs good, right vs wrong scenario where the kids who break rules are cast into the evil category and the NCAA, aided through reporters' work, is viewed as doing the righteous work championing for good. That's the issue that I have here. This isn't about good or bad. Unlike exposing political corruption or systematic discrimination or massive Ponzi schemes the NCAA situations are largely about, at their root, putting people back in their place.
There is more to this than the whole "equal playing field" that people chatter about when some other team commits a violation. There is more to this than being able to say "so and so only got a recruit because they gave him x, y, z" to help you sleep at night. Because while fans are busy pointing fingers at rivals or bitching about getting caught the NCAA is sitting back in Indianapolis and smiling because the system is being perpetuated.
Their system of rules that pushes this idea of amateurism where the only amateurs are the chattle doing the labor gets to keep moving forward. The players remain in the dark, without advocates, because schools and coaches are scared shitless of a not making the money they so desperately crave and fans have been conditioned to view rules in a right and wrong spectrum instead of questioning the actual system itself.
And I get it, the rules say don't do something and people just don't do it. If you break those rules you get in trouble. If you get in trouble then you're bad. That's how most folks work, pretty simple. The kids are bad, reporters who expose the kids are doing a positive for the system and the system is good and it has rules that shouldn't be broken.
But, at least from how I was raised and where I stand, that's not how it is supposed to work. If people just follow the rules then nothing gets changed. If people just tow the massively fucked up line just because it is the rule then a lot of stuff would never have been changed. Now, I'm not one to make the controversial slavery and segregation comparisons here but seriously, think about everything that was a rule and until people challenged it, was allowed to exist in its totally fucked up capacity.
Apologies for the language but that is how I see it. We've got folks passionate about getting a playoff, including the president, but they can't be troubled to care when kids are being totally railroaded by the governing body. Fans will argue endlessly about where they play a damn basketball tournament but when athletes at their league's own institutions get fleeced by a system setup to ensure that the fleecing occurs, meh, they're no shows.
I guess the issue here really isn't the reporting of guys like Robinson. They're good at it. They do help keep the system running and they do the NCAA's work for them. No, the issue isn't really them as Craggs and Whitlock propose.
The issue is us.
Fans eat this shit up. Rival fans spend time pointing fingers and calling the accused dirty. Fans of the exposed school spend their time doing damage control and trying to discount the writer. The media piles on with what's wrong with their system and how the school has lost control and needs to be punished severely.
And all the while the NCAA sits back with a smug smile on high, knowing that they can continue as is, because people have bought into the idea that they are unquestionable, that they are right, that they are "fixing" things when they dole out their arbitrary and statute-less punishment.
Feeding the beast. The beast that's going to pull some $770+ million this month is only going to get worse, not better. To shore up the system and ensure that "them boys" stay in line the NCAA is coming at schools harder than before. Come at the schools harder than ever and the schools will do a better job of keeping their worker bees in line. As long as the worker bees stay in line everything is gravy, baby.
A voiceless means of production. A management staff that's terrified of getting in trouble from the big boss. A big boss that plays itself as a benevolent leader who will hammer those who stray from the flock. A widely apathetic public that feeds the beast.
That's college sports in America today.
Perhaps you don't care because you root for your favorite team and you want those players to shut up, run around the field so you can cheer and win you a championship. That's all that matters. Have at it.
Naw dawg, that ain't me.
Perhaps you do see Robinson as doing the work for the good side when it comes to keeping them boys in line. Catch them when they break a rule and let the NCAA punish them. The tougher the punishment the better because them boys need to know who's boss.
Naw dawg, that ain't me.
Perhaps you actually believe there is merit to this amateurism where coaches are making millions, conferences are making tens of millions and the governing body is inking a deal in the billions.
Naw dawg, that ain't me.
Skip the trees that are UNC, Ohio State, Miami or Syracuse and look at the forest that is the entire NCAA. With writers and fans chasing knots in trees and looking for dead branches the NCAA as a whole continues to thrive even as the very soil it is built upon is toxic to the roots of every leaf of every tree in that forest.