Thursday, August 18, 2005

When monopolists encroach! The NCAA and mascots 

Much has already been said about University of North Dakota president Charles Kupchella's statement regarding the mascot issue, his interview with Hugh Hewitt, and these comments from Mitch. (I'm skipping the whole Coleman thing here -- Nick has had it out for Englestad for a long time because of the Nazi memorabilia thing. Nick wants to turn Englestad into another Marge Schott. I don't deal with derivative journalism, if Nick's writing can be called journalism.)

It's worth noting as well that there's at least one misrepresentation in this story, that the Oklahoma tribe of Seminoles (which, if I remember my history, descends from those forced out of Florida during the Seminole War) did not, in fact, object to the use of their tribal name by Florida State University, as the NCAA alleges. And, correcting something I wrote before, I learned from an interview on ESPN Radio with FSU president T.K. Wetherell: This was not voted on by the entire NCAA, meaning the university presidents. According to the interview, the schools sanctioned had no hearing before the NCAA's Equity Committee, and the Executive Committee did not give them the language they voted on beforehand. This decision came down from the executive board itself, making it seem more and more like a personal crusade taken up by NCAA president Miles Brand. The lack of due process, to be asked to pay dues to an organization that takes actions against you without a venue to have your position heard, is quite appalling, regardless of one's position on the mascot issue.

That accounts, in my view, for the tone of President Kupchella's open letter, which deserves a full reading. Mitch has cut out some excerpts, but here's one that bears some real significance.

Concerning tournaments already scheduled: Is the NCAA taking the position that it can actually unilaterally modify a contract already made? Perhaps the charge (sometimes heard) that the NCAA exhibits too much of the arrogance that comes from its status as a monopoly � apart from the question of whether it�s an effective organization � does indeed have a basis.

If the NCAA has all this power, why not use it to restore intercollegiate athletics to the ideal of sportsmanship by decoupling intercollegiate athletics from its corruption by big budgets? Why not use the power to put a halt to the out-of-control financial arms race that threatens to corrupt even higher education itself?

Yes, I know that in theory the NCAA is actually an association, and that UND is a member of it, and therefore it�s really we who are doing all of these things to ourselves, or failing to do all of these things ourselves. But is the NCAA really a democratic organization? Why did we not put these issues to a vote by all member schools??

The NCAA is already, in Robert Barro's words, the best little monopoly in America.

The NCAA is impressive partly because its limitations on scholarships and other payments to athletes boost the profitability of college sports programs. But even more impressive is the NCAA's ability to maintain the moral high ground. For example, many college basketball players come from poor families and are not sufficiently talented to make it to the National Basketball Assn. Absent the NCAA, such a student would be able to amass significant cash during a college career. With the NCAA in charge, this student remains poor. Nevertheless, the athletic association has managed to convince most people that the evildoers are the schools that violate the rules by attempting to pay athletes rather than the cartel enforcers who keep the student-athletes from getting paid.
And it's that type of moral posturing in evidence today with the mascot ruling. Given power in one area -- one that, despite their protestations now, has profited the institutions of Presidents Kupchella and Wetherell -- the NCAA like any government extends its influence into more and more areas. Just another step on the road to serfdom...