The shame of college sports

Everett L. Glenn | 3/6/2013, 5 p.m.

A host of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant news fodder. In 2010, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Southern California after determining that star running back Reggie Bush and his family had received "improper benefits."

Two years ago, as Auburn University football stormed its way to an undefeated season and a national championship, the team's star quarterback, Cam Newton, was dogged by allegations that his father had solicited $180,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for his son's matriculation there after junior college.

Last year, Ohio State's highly successful head coach, Jim Tressel, resigned after the NCAA alleged he had feigned ignorance of rules violations by players on his team. Late last summer, Yahoo Sports reported that the NCAA was investigating allegations that a University of Miami booster had given millions of dollars in illicit cash and services to more than 70 Hurricanes football players over eight years.

In an October 2011 story in The Atlantic, "The Real Shame of College Sports," author Taylor Branch surmised that the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, where the NCAA and its member institutions generate billions for themselves and private companies from the unpaid labor of so-called student athletes.

"Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes. Go to the skill positions--the stars. Ninety percent (of the 1 percent) are Black," says Sonny Vaccaro, who since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984 also profited off the labor of the Black athlete by building sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas and Reebok.

But the real scandal in college sports runs much deeper than not paying student athletes or excluding them from the multimillion-dollar film and video-game industry that uses their name and likeness. Think colonialism.

College sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with shallow claims about caring for the community or the well-being of the athlete who is the raw material in the multibillion-dollar college sports production process.

While Black athletes dominate storied football and basketball programs across the country, the rate of academic success by African American athletes leaves much to be desired. USC's football program recorded one of the worst graduation rates in the currently ranked AP Top 25 when the NCAA recently released figures for 2002-05. USC's Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for all student athletes was 57 percent. Only Oklahoma, Florida State and South Carolina recorded lower marks at 47 percent, 55 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

Among Pacific-12 schools, USC finished ninth. USC's basketball team fared even worse, with a 43 percent Graduation Success Rate, the worst in the PAC-12, but up from 38 percent a year earlier. According to UCLA, the Graduation Success Rate for Black football players from 2002-2005 was 51 percent, compared with 84 percent for their White teammates, a 33-point difference. The Graduation Success Rate for all Black student athletes at UCLA over that period was 74 percent, compared with 89 percent for Whites, a 15-point difference. The Graduation Success Rate for UCLA basketball players was 70 percent during the same period.