Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The NCAA is Stumbling Out of the Gate

You probably heard by now that Syracuse's center- and future namesake for an electro-pop band- Fab Melo is out of the NCAA Tournament due to an "eligibility issue". There's not a lot of information on what this means exactly, but at least Syracuse phrased the decision in such a way as to perfectly evoke the NCAA's longest running, most pernicious perennial scandal.

Meanwhile, John Calipari- who, in an alternate universe, actually orchestrated Melo's "eligibility issue" and is going to nonetheless play him in every game because fuck you, that's why- is blasting the NCAA for paying only lip service to the idea of taking care of the student athletes.

And then there's Dave Zirin- someone who's been doing this whole "sports and politics" thing for a while- calling NCAA student-athletes the civil rights issue of our time, and making sure we all re-read Taylor Branch's remarkable piece on just how hollow a lie the "student-athlete" moniker is.

In other words, this is a rather inauspicious start to March Madness.

I'm not exactly bubbling over with sympathy, you understand. The NCAA has dug itself into a deep hole on these issues, and it's not going to get out until fans demand it get out. That requires attention. That requires some outrage. And yeah, that requires stealing the spotlight from one of the best events in sports. Of course, we'll probably forget all about this by the Sweet Sixteen, but we have to start somewhere.

One of the reasons all the major sports organizations can get away with some decidedly regressive actions is that a really good game or series or season or postseason comes along and everyone forgets everything that bugs them about the sport. I do it, too- fighting was certainly not a problem in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, by no means! But if we keep letting the slate get wiped clean like that, all of these very real problems get reduced to off-season chatter.

Fab Melo's suspension (if that's the right word) sucks for Syracuse, and it probably sucks for the rest of us because it will make some games a little less interesting. John Calipari's statement sucks because it means we have to listen to John Calipari. But at least we can't easily ignore the NCAA's trouble with student athletes this March.

1 comment:

  1. Alternative/supplementary take:

    This is part and parcel of our fascination with sports. Similar to the discussion around the Saints bounty scandal about how we make this agreement with ourselves to cheer on a violent sport because they aren't TRYING to hurt each other, we make this agreement with ourselves regarding college sports. Every college bends or breaks recruiting rules and makes academic allowances for the players. We allow it because we get great sports. The price we demand is that every couple of years we get a story like this: One school or small group of players serves as sacrificial lamb, taking on the sins of the system to be ritualistically slaughtered in the media. The school itself suffers no lasting damage (having learned from SMU), but the players involved may be permanently tainted. By pilloring this one instance, we get to show our outrage that such actions would take place, and placate ourselves that it isn't widespread because we caught this one offender and punished them harshly. Now let's get back to the harvest festival.