Hello, Terrapins and Scarlet Knights: Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten

A funny thing happened on Tuesday: Maryland and Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten.

Three years ago I welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten and I thought I would extend the same courtesy to the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights. Their entrance now expands the Big Ten to 14 schools and extends the conference all the way to the Atlantic Ocean — and the lucrative cable markets of Baltimore, Washington, DC, and the New York City metro. (It is, in a sense, modern Manifest Destiny. I have no doubt that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany dreams of a cable television empire that stretches from sea to shining sea.)

Welcome, welcome. Please sit and make yourselves at home. You guys want a beer? All my pint glasses are dirty so you’ll have to drink them out of the can. Oh, and please excuse me for being so blasé. I became jaded with conference expansion long ago.

Frankly, I have become jaded with major college sports in general. Despite the fact I am an Iowa football and men’s basketball season ticket holder, and perhaps complicit in this whole mess, I have grown disgusted by a system that exploits the talent of college-aged athletes and the downright shameless support it is given by university administrators, people who should have much higher standards for ethics and fairness. Just recently, UI President Sally Mason threw her support behind the college sports status quo. (For some reason I cannot find the article. I read it in the CRG recently.) NCAA President Mark Emmert, testifying at the O’Bannon vs. NCAA antitrust lawsuit, continued to insist that college athletes are full-time students and amateurs.

Emmert stuck doggedly to the NCAA's script, insisting that "amateurism," as a core value of the NCAA, is "essential" to the goal of "competitive balance" and to integrating athletics and academics. Paying players in any form, he said, including for the rights to use their images and likenesses in game broadcasts, would irrevocably harm college sports. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2014/06/19/obannon-antitrust-case-against-ncaa-mark-emmert/10860101/)

Emmert also justified the status quo with tradition.

Emmert said he believes the customs that most college sports fans hold most dear -- the camaraderie of game day, the tailgating, the atmosphere of a stadium packed with nearly 100,000 fans and the pride of cheering for a university team -- are at stake.

"Traditions and keeping them are very important to universities," Emmert said. "These individuals are not professionals. They are representing their universities as part of a university community.

"People come to watch ... because it's college sports, with college athletes," he said.

Those beloved traditions go hand in hand with the model of amateurism, and if amateurism goes away, so will the games as we know them now, he said. Many schools lose money on Division I athletics but keep them for the "social cohesion" and the boost to their profiles, Emmert said. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/19/us/ncaa-obannon-lawsuit-trial/)

Seriously? What balls! “It’s unfair — but it’s tradition!” Many critics of college sports have referred to it as a postmodern plantation system. Emmert’s comments make it hard to argue against that accusation. The whole damn thing is unfair, especially when one considers how much money is involved. (Where does the money from TV rights and sponsorship deals go? I have no clue, but it certainly is not benefiting the players.)

A number of concessions have been made recently, but they are tantamount to the NCAA and university administrators tossing peanuts to players. EA Sports and the NCAA respectively reached $40 million and $20 million settlements with athletes who had images and likenesses used in video games. This CBS Sports article outlines who can get what, but essentially there is a $5,000 cap per player per year. The most any one player can earn is $20,000. I have no clue how much Electronic Arts and the NCAA made off those games, but it was probably a lot more then $60 million.

I have no clue how college sports can continue unchanged. It shouldn’t. And to be brutally honest, I think it might be best if college sports were nothing more than student-run intramural programs. No more shameless charade based on “amateurism” and “student-athletes.”

(An American sports scene without the “amateur” ranks of college sports feeding the professional leagues is an interesting prospect. What will happen to all those athletes, the kids whose education has been neglected for the sake of grooming and exploiting their athletic talents? What will happen to the diehard fans? What will happen to the billions of dollars worth of sports facilities across the nation? Saturdays in the fall would never be the same, obviously. Hmm… Somehow, I would assume, everything would be professionalized; each school’s sports franchises would be incorporated into professional clubs, much as there are in other parts of the world. Perhaps all one would need to do is remove the university affiliations and, as Emmert has said, convert everything into a massive minor league system. (Though Emmert seems convinced nobody would care because it would be the “minor league.”))

But, hey! Welcome to the Big Ten, Maryland and Rutgers!

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