Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the governing body for college athletics. In recent years, the corrupt nature of this “non-profit” organization has begun to rear its ugly head. This hypocrisy is the center of Ben Strauss and Joe Nocera’s novel, Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA.   The NCAA was originally created as a way to protect athletes, but this protection has shifted to a flat out exploitation of their ‘amateurism’ status. There is outrage when it is discovered that these amateurs accept impermissible benefits or violate any absurd rules yet the organization itself is free to impose any sanctions they wish and profit off of the young athletes. Specifically, the authors examine the two money-making juggernauts in college sports: basketball and football. Strauss and Nocera provide a series of compelling case studies revealing the impure dealings of the organization and how they rule with an iron fist.

I was a women’s hockey player at the University of Connecticut (UCONN). Did I feel the athletic department or the NCAA was exploiting my talents for their own bottom line? No, never. But then again, my jerseys weren’t being sold on ShopNCAAsports.com….

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Former Duke basketball standout and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has become one of the NCAA’s biggest critics.

They also weren’t being sold at the campus bookstore, and I wasn’t portrayed “anonymously” in EA Sports video games, oh and my games also weren’t attracting thousands and thousands of fans. Overall, it sure felt like the NCAA and the school itself was actually spending a lot more money on me than what I was actually worth. Textbooks, gear, apparel, tutors, advisors. Seemed like a great deal to me. Maybe this is how they are able to justify it- there are 480,000 student-athletes that compete across 24 sports at the Division I, II and III levels as part of the NCAA for a total of 19,000 teams. A much smaller percentage, approximately 90,000, of these athletes compete in the two sports focused on in this book and fore the most part the scandals tend to occur at DI level.

For every student that is deemed ineligible or wronged by the NCAA, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who reap the benefits of representing their schools. But does this make it fair? I don’t think so. The authors focus solely on basketball and football student-athletes in their novel, it would be interesting to read about both the plight and delight of athletes from other sports as well as a way to compare and contrast their treatment. Athletes from the aforementioned sports generate immense revenue for their universities – shouldn’t they be entitled to even a small piece of the billion dollar pie?  Economist Andy Schwarz details many of the excuses used to justify not paying college athletes. He then proceeds to debunk every single excuse. Schwarz’s work is discussed at length in the novel as well. The NCAA seemingly makes up things as it goes. Continually adding pages to the rulebook and creating investigations out of thin air are commonplace. Rules that are long outdated are in dire need updating – Title IX? (That’s another controversial discussion for another day)

The book’s title has some racial undertones because of the word “Indentured.” One of the more controversial points Strauss and Nocera make throughout the book is the racial stereotypes that the NCAA consistently draws upon when pursuing investigations. There are quite a few people getting filthy, filthy rich at the expense of college athletes. These people ironically seem to be older white men profiting off of  young, typically African-American men. I think it would be unfair to cast a net of racism over the organization, while there are definitely instances and arguments to be made, I think to call the organization’s practices racist could potentially distract from the true issues at hand. Greed. Money. Control. These are the issues that should be focused on – exploiting ALL athletes (regardless of colour) for their work. The labour issues are not due to race and should not be framed entirely in that way.

It is obvious that the questions surrounding athlete exploitation in the NCAA have no easy answers. The system has flaws on so many levels it is difficult to even begin searching for a solution. The NCAA isn’t the only guilty party – I have seen firsthand how student-athletes abuse the system for their own personal gains, and also how schools break the rules for the athletes thus increasing their susceptibility to punishment. In fact, there are so many guilty parties in the tangled web of corruption and exploitation it is impossible to cast sole blame.  Strauss and Nocera don’t provide any concrete fixes but they do continue the conversation. Continually stirring the NCAA pot is what must be done in order to one-day overhaul the system as a whole.

Strauss and Nocera take a firm stance in their critiques of the organization. What they don’t do is mention the seemingly rare instances in which the NCAA shows compassion and bends its rules in favour of the athletes. It would be interesting to see how many instances like this exist, however, it seems the bad will forever outweigh the good. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to get a glimpse into the America’s biggest cartel, the NCAA.

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