Essentially, Thomas said what every critic of the NCAA has been saying for years and years and years: “College athletics is nothing more than a corrupt system focused on exploitation and greed.”
He’s right, and while the column that he wrote isn’t exactly groundbreaking — it’s just more reinforcement about all of the things that are supremely screwed up about the way the current system functions — it is meaningful. Thomas is a college players that the majority of us remembering playing, but in college and in the league. This isn’t some nameless blogger or faceless writer; this is a guy that lived and breathed everything he is writing about.
That means something.
But, as Matt Norlander points out, it won’t mean anything in comparison to a current star coming out and railing against the NCAA:
Vocalizing discontent with the NCAA is something that’s hard to do when you’re a player. After all, without it, what would your college career look like? Would you even have one? The schools and athletic departments do their best to incubate every athlete’s mind and keep them as sterile as possible. (This leads to 90 percent of interviews turning into wastes of time for reporters.) The irony is with this. Say someone fairly well-known — I’ll just pick Ohio State’s Aaron Craft — next season started going after the NCAA. Criticizing it in a fair, measured manner.
You know what wouldn’t happen? Any sort of public backlash. If arguments made by Craft were rational, the only ones who would cringe at the public critiques would be those inside NCAA offices and the Ohio State athletic department, who’d be besieged with interview requests from starved reporters wanting more.
This would be annoying for only Ohio State and the NCAA, but the national conversation would benefit. There is so much improvement to be done, I can’t help but wonder if an active, nationally prominent basketball or football player isn’t the real eventual catalyst to sparking more tweaks to the system.
If it minor revolt does happen some time in the next seven or eight years, it will be guys Etan Thomas who inspire the youth to rise on up.
There is an important distinction to make here.
This conversation is only relevant to a select few athletes: The kids that play football and basketball (and in some cases baseball)at programs in BCS conferences; the kids that play at smaller schools with massive followings — Memphis, Xavier, Gonzaga, Creighton, etc., for hoops; some of the stars at the mid-major level (think Stephen Curry in 2008 or Isaiah Canaan next season). The sixth-man on Fordham is a much different story than the star at Syracuse.
Idealistically, the NCAA is truly a fantastic concept. Making it possible for an education to be paid for through sport gives an opportunity for a lot of kids that wouldn’t otherwise be able to continue their schooling to better their future and their family’s future. And for the majority of collegiate athletes.
The problem is that it has grown to big. Too much money is involved. With figures like $10.8 billion are getting thrown around — that’s how much the NCAA tournament is worth to CBS and Turner — than it simply becomes hypocritical to complain about a kid receiving $200 from an old friend that happens to be his AAU coach because his family needs to put food on the table.
We all know that a change needs to be made.
The odds of that happening will increase exponentially once current athletes start taking a stand.