Duke fans, you actually might want to read this one.
A disclaimer as we get into it: I’m going to talk very little about the UNC-VT game. Want to know why? Okay, what was the score of the game?
If it took you more than a couple seconds to come up with the answer, VT 24 – UNC 21, well, that’s why. UNC played hard in this game for about the first eight minutes, folded the middle thirty, then decided to make the score respectable toward the end. I just can’t get excited about a team that seems like it has tuned out for the season, just as many Carolina fans have. The score wasn’t nearly as close as it looked, because let’s be honest – if you watched the game, you knew that all the Hokies had to do if they wanted to score was run jailbreak screen passes and send their phenomenal tailback, David Wilson, on stretch plays and wait for UNC to miss seven tackles.
So UNC sits at 6-5 on the season, with wins over most of the “bad” teams on their schedule except NC State (yes, they really do suck) and losses to most of the “good” teams like Virginia Tech, Clemson, and GT. With just one game left in the season – the annual Victory Bell game against Duke – it’s a fairly safe bet to say this has been an underachieving, mediocre edition of Carolina football. But really, who can blame them considering the events of the summer and fall? After all, they’re still going to go to a bowl game….
According to ESPN, UNC is projected to go to the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, playing either Wyoming or Air Force in Shreveport, Louisiana. Oh man! I’m PUMPED! I can’t wait for a showdown against the MWC or a service academy, sponsored by an energy supplement company I’ve never heard of, in SHREVEPORT. YES! Happy New Years’ from the asshole of Louisiana!
Wait. Explain this to me: why is college football the only sport where mediocre and even crappy teams go to what amounts to a postseason? Why would a football team WANT to go to a fake postseason game where there is literally nothing on the line?
Is it recruiting? I can’t imagine UNC’s next coach going to an in-home visit and saying, “We have postseason success – just look at our victory last year in the BBVA Compass Bowl!”
Is it money? Well, for the school, the answer is an unequivocal yes. The payout for the Independence Bowl this year is $1.5 million per team, a number I find incredible. That means the UNC athletic department gets just over $17,000 per scholarship. Considering it costs Carolina considerably less to pay for scholarship (as in-state tuition runs around $4,000 depending on the type of toilet paper the trustees used that morning) the schools make out like bandits. A bowl appearance essentially justifies the existence of a football team for an athletic department. How crazy is that? Winning six games and playing in somewhere like Tulsa for your Super Bowl, against a similarly crappy team, makes your football team profitable.
Is it just for the experience? Maybe. Anecdotal evidence from the players themselves suggests that they really do like the bowl experience – they get a lot of free stuff and basically get to be around a party atmosphere, and out of classes, for a few days. It’s kind of like a preseason basketball tournament, and about as meaningful. But this flagrantly flies in the face of the NCAA’s fake care for the “student” part of the “student-athlete” myth for big-time sports? Doesn’t the entire bowl system destroy any part of this myth? Let’s use Carolina as an example: the season effectively concludes against Duke on November 26th. Instead of having the post-Thanksgiving break time to study for finals, players have to practice and prepare through Christmas. How does this make any sense?
It doesn’t. For the athlete, it doesn’t at all. And, this, right here, is why the NCAA’s ridiculous statements about protecting its prime directive is worse than misleading. It’s an outright lie.
“Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.” – NCAA Principle on Amateurism.
Yeah, right. If athletes were really motivated primarily by education, the NCAA wouldn’t have their season stretch over final exams or into the second semester.
Let’s dive deeper into the bullshit. NCAA Bylaw 12.1.2 states: “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if the individual: (a) Uses his or her athletics skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport,” blah blah blah. Okay, so athletes can’t be paid. Duh. What is pay, then?
Under its section on prohibited pay I counted over 30 categories for how compensation is prohibited. But nicely enough, the NCAA built in a clause – a separate, bullshit clause – allowing “entertainment expenses” for the friends and families of athletes participating in a bowl game, as well as a permissible-gifts clause basically saying that equipment provided by outside companies, provided those gifts were related to the sport, was okay. Hello, bowl exceptions.
What crap. What indefensible, gut-wrenching crap. I’m not a lawyer, but this has to be illegal. It reeks of collusion: of the NCAA, and by association its member schools, hopping in bed with sponsors and TV networks to make huge amounts of money off of its indentured servants, the student-athlete. For the NCAA to say they value the education of their athletes over everything else, then to turn around and force them to practice all through the exam period before doling out $1.5 million to a school simply for showing up stinks of deception.
What’s doubly ironic is the vast sum of money involved. America’s obsession with football has created a monstrosity of cash. In a world where you can watch football nearly 24 hours a day, happily provided to you by all kinds of sports networks, everyone wins. The TV networks fatten up on advertising dollars. The bowls themselves get obscenely rich for doing nothing but hosting a football game. The schools receive huge payouts for being one of the top seventy teams in the nation out of a pool of 120. The NCAA makes money off everything and everyone. From mid-December through New Year’s, Americans can sit on their couches and watch the unpaid help bang into each other on television. Everyone wins… except the players, who, in their quest to play on Sundays, continue to perform as gladiators for the Roman mob.
The NCAA should be scared, though. As more and more people add their voices to criticism of the incredibly screwed-up system we have, the student-athletes themselves have finally taken an interest in their own preservation. Should they continue down the path they’re on, it’s easy to see serious reforms in the future – and I’m not talking about a paltry adjustment in the cost-of-living stipend like the NCAA presidents came up with last time they met for “serious reform.” Maybe we’ll see something like the Jay Bilas reform model. Maybe it’ll be outright pay-for-play, which seems to make the most sense. Something. Anything.
Maybe we’ll even see the end of the bowls.