The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Farmer and the Cow


Imagine for a second that you are a beef cow.  You’re forced into a trailer with several others of your herd.  The truck pulling it takes off and drives to the nearest meat locker.  The farmer that has spent years feeding you, doctoring you and giving you shelter leads you into the locker, where the last thing you see is a butcher and the barrel of a gun.  After you are dismembered the farmer takes his profits from the sale of your flesh.

Now imagine that just prior to being taken on that trip, the farmer whispers in your ear how everything he does is for your benefit, that you are the entire reason why he exists and that if you give him your all, he’ll make sure you get what you want and succeed in life.  How credible does knowing the end result make the words of the farmer?

The farmer can’t be both the greatest advocate for the cow’s life and making a profit off its slaughter.  One eventually has to be sacrificed for the other to happen.  The fact is that the NCAA is trying to do this, however.  The NCAA is simultaneously trying to be two different organizations and it can’t be both at the same time.

The first thing that the NCAA is trying to be is a multi-million dollar sports entertainment corporation.  According to the projected revenue for the NCAA for the 2012-13 fiscal year is $797 million.  81% of that income comes from the broadcasting rights to the sporting events it regulates.  I say it is being unsuccessful in its attempts to be a multi-million dollar sports entertainment corporation because it has the worst player relations and most ridiculous regulations for its employees out of any similar organization in existence.  No other league prints t-shirts celebrating the injury of a player (Kevin Ware), sells them, claims that the shirts represent the team and not the player, and then says it would be unethical to give that player a penny of the profit from the sales.  If the NFL attempted to profit off of a player’s image without giving them a cut, there would be lawsuits striking like lightning.

While the NCAA is carrying on the sales of merchandise and regulating every other aspect of collegiate athletics in this country, it also represents itself as a student advocate organization and operates under a 501C3 tax exemption.  In response to the question of how the NCAA can make almost $800 million and still be considered non-profit, the NCAA maintains that only 4% of its revenue stays in the NCAA.  This argument is a logical absurdity.  If you control the actions of the people you give money to, you still have de facto control over that money.

The NCAA states that the other 96% of that money goes to the member conferences and institutions, used to support conference championships and used to support other programs that benefit students.  It sounds great.  The problem, however, is the new “golden rule.”  If you control the actions of the people you give money to, you still have de facto control over that money.  Since the NCAA has the gold, it makes the rules.  It’s a self-governing body that holds massive resources that the member conferences and institutions are dependent on to operate.  The reality is that the schools and students are the advocates for the NCAA, not the other way around.

It’s hypocritical to tell a student you’re looking out for his best interest at the same time you’re making money off his injury.  Scandals involving money improperly distributed according to NCAA regulations are punished harshly but the NCAA never takes any responsibility for its part in creating those situations in the first place with unrealistic regulations and the atmosphere of big money.  Due to the rampant prevalence of these violations, such as the recent Oregon and Auburn violations, the NCAA needs to make a decision about its identity.  It has the right to go either direction, but a consensus needs to be reached.

If the NCAA decides the direction should be the multi-million dollar sports entertainment organization, then it immediately needs to rectify the glaring issues standing between its players and coaches and teams and the administration.  The ridiculous regulations like preventing a player from taking a piece of pizza home with him from a team pizza party need to be done away with .  The money that is given to the various conferences and schools should be used at the discretion of those schools and conferences.  The NCAA should abide by the ethics of a corporation if they are going to be one and treat their employees as an integral part of the organization, not as a charity case that needs to abide by its rules to survive.

However, if the NCAA decides that it wants to go the direction of the student advocate organization, then it needs to limit its activities to exactly that.  The NCAA should forever wash its hands of handling the finances that flow between the conferences and schools and the media, advertisers, etc.  Its singular focus should be the success of athletes at its member institutions in all realms of life.  If a student-athlete is facing discrimination, then it needs to ride to the rescue and defend that student-athlete with resources the student-athlete could not muster on her/his own.  If a student-athlete is having trouble finding housing, it should open doors for that student-athlete to find a place to live.

The instability we’ve seen in the NCAA is due to the fact that it’s trying to be two different things at the same time.  It can’t be both a money machine and a humanitarian organization.  It’s hard for a farmer to tell one of his cattle that they are the most important thing in the world to him while he’s driving it to the butcher.