When Rutgers University fired its mens' basketball coach Mike Rice, it should have been a tipping point. NCAA scandals are not rare -there seems to be a new one every week- but this one was beyond the pale. In the video released by his assistant, Rice is seen hurling slurs at his players, throwing basketballs at them, and getting in their faces like some pathetic schoolyard bully.
The video made me sick. I imagined being one of the parents of those boys and seeing my child berated and physically assaulted when all along I'd assumed my kid was in a safe, learning environment. But mostly the situation made me wonder what it will take for the NCAA to put the health and well being of student-athletes before its first goal of making money.
Sure the NCAA would like us all to believe that students-athletes are just that–students first and athletes second. But that's rarely, if ever, the case. Playing a sport while in school often mirrors a full-time job as athletes rise for early morning practices, miss classes, and a fight through a desperate need for more sleep than the average student. This is why when colleges aren't just blatantly letting athletes cheat out of the academic portion (see: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill), they're ushering them into majors with less rigorous requirements to ensure eligibility.
There is a concerted effort by the NCAA to implement rules and environment that keeps kids virtually powerless over their own lives and futures. And when the student-athletes violate the NCAA's rules, the penalties can be harsh. Numerous students and even long ago graduated athletes like Chris Webber have been suspended or stripped of their accomplishments. Meanwhile, Coaches who violate the rules, like current NFL Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll, often skirt any real consequences by skipping away to the pros.
In Mike Rice's case it took a leaked video and public outrage for him to face any real punishment. At first, the school quietly suspended him and swept the entire incident under the rug. And even after being fired, Rice still left the school with a $475,000 settlement. His boss? A settlement of 1.2 million.
I'm glad to see there folks rallying to fight the NCAA over their ridiculous restrictions on student athletes including the rule that prevents collegiate athletes from profiting off their own image and likeness. That would be a first step to shifting the balance of power. But for now I'm not at all confident that change is on the horizon. As many before me have said, it seems that when it comes to collegiate sports, the kids are the only ones expected to act like adults.
Jessica Danielle is a professional speechwriter who covers sports with wit and ardor at Playerperspective.com.