“Flagrant” is a strong word, reserved for the harshest and most violent penalties in the game of basketball. But it’s an appropriate adjective to describe the fouls committed against NCAA athletes today.
My name is Katie Lever and I am a former Division 1 athlete and a current Ph. D student at the University of Texas at Austin. I study NCAA policy and the health and well-being of its athletes, which is not what most people expect out of academia. But my dad has a trite yet true saying that–through his constant repetition–resonates with me: “You have to do what you’re good at.” Eye roll aside, I’m good at critiquing the NCAA because I’ve lived it and academia gives me an excellent framework and platform to do so. Researching the NCAA fits me as naturally as my nine-year-old softball glove.
I stand by the value of researching the NCAA for many reasons, namely because athletics hold immense value to wide audiences. Most people resonate with sports figures at all levels and college athletics in particular has a cult-like following in the United States. For better or worse, people care about sports and that passion and affiliation offer me an avenue to talk both academically and colloquially about NCAA issues.
I also believe in researching college sports because NCAA policy carries implications in the real world and college athletes are a vulnerable population for many reasons (to be discussed later). NCAA athletes have very few rights and a plethora of unique problems that both precede their collegiate careers and follow them after their eligibility expires. The image that the NCAA projects to the public is mythic at best and revealing the truth about NCAA issues is, in a nutshell, the aim of my research. “Flagrant” is a digestible, easy-to-read (and probably sassy) extension of that research.
Amateurism, or the NCAA’s policy that restricts athletes from profiting from their image or likeness, is the current hot-button issue surrounding NCAA policy. It has gained so much popularity that it has become low-hanging fruit for NCAA critics: of course college athletes deserve fair access to their own images and the ability to profit from them. But there are many more issues that plague college athletes that aren’t getting half the attention that athletic amateurism is, probably because these problems mostly affect athletes who don’t play men’s basketball or football. It is a great fear of mine that once (if) amateurism is finally repealed, criticism surrounding the NCAA will die down. Amateurism is only one item on my list of everything that is wrong with the NCAA.
To be clear, I love the press amateurism is generating. Prohibiting (mostly minority, low-income) college athletes from profiting from their images while the NCAA pockets their revenue is an egregious overstep of power and restricting individual free-market access is not only un-American, but unjust. However, athletic amateurism only scrapes the surface of issues that affect NCAA athletes and that is the point of this blog: to highlight the flagrance of the NCAA’s business model and the ill-effects that ineffective policy has on its athletes. It is my hope that the public veracity surrounding amateurism can provide a similar platform to discuss other meaningful topics and prompt change in the NCAA.
Criticism aside, I believe in the NCAA as it ought to be: an educational, non-profit organization that is athlete-centered and provides resources to populations who need it the most—in athletics as an “avocation,” as the Division 1 Manual likes to say, designed to enhance the educational pursuits of athletes. Watching college sports today, can any of us really say that this is what the NCAA looks like as an organization? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean that I am fully anti-NCAA. Any good coach will tell you they are the most critical of the athletes they believe in the most. I believe in college sports but I can’t condone how the NCAA operates now. It is an institution that is greedy at best and corrupt at worst and it’s time to blow that whistle on every foul.
That’s my warm-up. It’s time to play.