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The Audacity Of The NCAA On Ryan Boatright

A freshman point guard averaging a little over 10 points per game wouldn’t usually merit multiple mentions in the editorial section of the New York Times. But the story of UConn’s Ryan Boatright, and the series of suspensions he received earlier in the season, is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the NCAA.

As Times columnist Joe Nocera outlined in a series of devastating columns, Boatright was suspended because his mother received “impermissible benefits” from a “third party” during his recruitment.

Translated into English, Tanesha Boatright, a struggling single mom with four young children, received some money from Reggie Rose, the older brother of Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls MVP and one of her son’s AAU coaches. She used that money to make some payments on her car as well as accompany Ryan on college recruiting trips.

While Boatright was one of the Top-50 players in the country last year, at (a generous) 6’0, 160, his NBA future is far from assured. Due to the importance of size defensively, a player of his stature essentially has no margin for error if he wants to be drafted. Of the approximately 450 players in the NBA, only a handful -- Will Bynum (Detroit), Isaiah Thomas (Washington), Nate Robinson (Golden State), JJ Barea (Minnesota), DJ Augustin (Charlotte), Sebastian Telfair (Phoenix) -- are 6’0 and under.

So, because of the NBA’s refusal to make any kind of substantial investment in amateur basketball, Boatright has no choice but to attend an NCAA institution to become a professional basketball player. With dozens of quality 22-year-old college guards coming into the D-League each season, why would an NBA team bother to take a chance on one who didn’t follow the conventional path?

For a Top-50 recruit like Boatright, a player with a legitimate, but not a guaranteed, shot at the NBA, picking the right college is one of the most important decisions of his life. And as anyone who ever watched He Got Game knows, there are a lot of unsavory ways to sway an 18-year-old on a recruiting trip.

For most of the NCAA’s middle and upper-class students, choosing a college without their parents seeing it first would be unthinkable. But how exactly was Ryan’s working-class mother, who lives in Illinois, supposed to be accompany him to Connecticut? According to the NCAA’s logic, by accepting money from a friend for a plane ticket, she was jeopardizing her son’s amateur status.

Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, the NCAA reserves the absolute right to dictate who the parents of its “student-athletes” associate with personally and professionally. After all, an agent or a school could use any third party to funnel money to Tanesha Boatright, therefore, in theory, no one should be able to give her money for any reason while her son is playing college basketball.

The only people allowed to make money off her son are the schools themselves, who signed a 14-year $11 billion deal for the TV rights to March Madness in 2010. The NCAA is making over a billion dollars a year televising the exploits of players like Boatright, yet they nearly ruined his career, and his family’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to break out a cycle of poverty that goes back generations, over a couple thousand dollars.

The Boatright family wasn’t even trying to divert any of the prodigious sums of money the NCAA makes off men’s basketball; they were just trying to do everything possible to ensure their son had the best chance of eventually playing in the NBA.

Strip away the pageantry and high-minded tradition, and the NCAA’s business model is clear: using the widespread interest and popularity generated by the athletic ability of lower-income football and basketball players to subsidize scholarships for golfers, tennis players and swimmers playing sports that no one watches or cares about. After all, if a family can afford to make their son a world-class golfer, they can probably afford the cost of college.

Of course, as anyone who has followed college sports over the last generation already knows, there’s no fighting the forces of the free market. Because they can’t compete over the salaries of their players, schools have invested tens of millions in coaching salaries and practice facilities in an escalating arms race to gain an advantage in recruiting. Meanwhile, the more the NCAA squeezes young players, the more that wind up slipping through their fingers.

That’s why they are so quick to attack someone like Ryan Boatright. He’s just another scalp they can use to threaten the next crop of high school athletes from associating with “undesirables” while patting themselves on the back for battling the scourge of third parties trying to exploit “amateur” athletes.

The only third party allowed to profit off college basketball players is the NCAA itself and they’ll fight to the bitter end to ensure it stays that way.

 

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