Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The cost of the NCAA 

My brother had recommended to me that I read Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, and like Doc I thoroughly enjoyed it. (I actually listened to it rather than read it, as my schedule puts me in the car more than I used to be.) John went to the part of the book that bothered me the most, which is the story of Michael Oher. That link tells you want you should focus on:
Son of Denise Oher and Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Denise Oher's story is one of sadness, poverty and brokeness, a combination of bad choices and bad circumstances. The Tuohys, on the other hand, pick this young man up and put him into a private Christian school, buy him the best education possible, and still have trouble getting him into and continuing in college. (John has a longer synopsis.)

What bothered me was not the Tuohys' generosity to the child -- yes, Michael Oher is a lucky young man; yes, there are many other possible Ohers out there, as Lewis and the Tuohys both realize -- but that the lengths one had to go through to have Michael Oher play football are the consequences of the NCAA's regulation of football. Is there any doubt that Ole Miss would have admitted him to college and given him a scholarship regardless of his GPA and SAT scores as long as he could play football? So all that the Tuohys must do to get Michael into Ole Miss is driven by the NCAA's eligibility rules.

John asks "How many times has Michael Oher been given the message that because he might become an NFL left tackle, people will bend or break the rules for him." But the rules that are bent or broken are for the most part* rules that are created by a group of university presidents to protect their own franchises and the attendant revenue streams (as Phil points out nicely in another context.) What the Tuohys' money purchased was the ability to escape a set of rules that had the consequence of denying Michael Oher the right to specialize and exchange that one thing he does better than he does anything else.

At the end of the book the Tuohys begin to wonder whether they can find another child to bring along like they had with Michael. The NCAA creates thousands of them, folks, take your pick.

* -- there is the assault story that John mentions, and the behavior of the family there troubles me to same extent that any rich kid in college might buy their way out of legal jam.