Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

On NCAA arrogance, and a change that’s needed much more than unions

03/28/2014 9:16 AM

03/28/2014 10:22 AM

You probably saw where the Northwestern football team’s efforts to unionize took an encouraging first step, and now comes the reaction

, but somewhere in here needs to be a significant change in attitude.

You hear a lot about NCAA "arrogance," but usually that term is used generally, without specifics.

I’d like to give you a specific.

Over the past year or so, in casual conversations with administrators — and these were casual conversations, so I’ll leave their names out of it — I’ve tried to brainstorm a few tweaks to the current system of college sports where the labor gets a scholarship and so many around the labor get six- or seven-figure salaries.

One basic, fundamental difference between many of those administrators and what I consider common, real-world sense: many of the administrators genuinely seem to see the value in college sports as strictly a one-way street.

I’m exaggerating a bit to make a point here, but not too much: the athletes gain exposure, experience, and life lessons from the university and should be thankful for it.

From what I can tell, there are many — not all, but


— administrators who sincerely don’t see how their schools are profiting off the talents of their athletes.

With or without one particular athlete, their thinking goes, we’re going to sell our tickets and sign our television contracts.

Even ignoring some obvious exceptions — how much money did Texas A make off Johnny Manziel? — that thinking is apparently oblivious to the idea that star athletes who generate fan interest and team success have choices. Andrew Wiggins didn’t have to go to Kansas. Michael Sam didn’t have to go to Missouri. Collin Klein didn’t have to go to K-State.

Without talented athletes wearing the school colors and pushing teams to success, those uniforms are empty brands. Look at Alabama football under Mike DuBose, Kentucky basketball under Billy Gillispie, or Oklahoma football under John Blake. There’s a reason that such a big part of coaching success is recruiting.

That’s the part that many administrators are going to have to reconcile, and quickly. There is no doubt that college athletes can benefit from the brand they play under. They acknowledge this. But, with the same logic, there is no doubt that the brands of various college programs — and all the money and jobs that come with it — are fueled by the athletes who represent those brands in front of millions on television.

Officials with the NCAA and individual schools would be well-served to acknowledge this.

Unionizing may not be the answer. But ignoring reality is definitely not the answer.


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