Abuse shows players should be paid

This isn’t the way to coach a team, let alone a team of young men who are scholar athletes.

Rutgers and head coach Mike Rice were broadsided on Tuesday when ESPN’s Outside the Lines obtained and aired a video of the head coach throwing basketballs at players, verbally abusing them and getting overtly physical with them. The public outcry led to his firing and the firing of Rutgers athletics director Tim Pernetti.

Rice’s actions are clearly intolerable but he is not alone. The “old school” way of coaching utilizing intimidation must end not just at Rutgers and not just on basketball courts but on fields everywhere.

The job of coaches must be to build up and not to tear down.

There has been a culture change from the strategies used five decades ago, a time where public embarrassment, corporal punishment and verbal abuse were the norm if not the standard. Now we know about the long-term emotional and psychological damage that came from those techniques which outweighed any positive result. As we’ve grown as a society, we’re turned away from an era where prominent coaches would throw basketballs at the heads of players. Well, at least we should have.

This is wake-up call for the NCAA and coaches everywhere who are slow to adapt, whose ways are also outdated and must evolve. The Final Four this week would traditionally be a celebration of the sport, but that will not be the case this year. The focus will be trying to preserve this delicate balance of exploitation that has enabled colleges to make a lot of money off of student athletes which is under unprecedented attack.

Much of it comes down to the idea of a players worth beyond his self-worth and that a student-athlete is more than just property to be thrown around. It is time to give the player a fair standing in all this. It is time to pay the players.

A top-tier college coach in basketball or football stands to make several million dollars a year. How can a player who plays for tuition, books and meals stand up to someone with that kind of clout on and off campus?

Consider the court case of Ed O’Bannon, who was a fantastic scorer for UCLA who won big games and a national title in the 1990s. What is a major college football or basketball player worth? According to the National College Player’s Association, the 2009-2010 value of the athletes from the top ten collegiate football markets was $345,000-$514,000 per athlete. A player’s value in top 10 market is judged to be between $620,000-$1,000,000 in 2009-2010. That’s a hefty price to pay for 30 credits.

The O’Bannon case could change college athletics forever. Isn’t it time that it evolves as well?

This season we watched, the consensus top prospect in college basketball go down with a significant season ending knee injury. On the biggest stage, in the regional final, we saw another student, snap his leg in half on national television. These athletes are mercenaries playing for their university, paid for with school credit. How many people would work their jobs for company credit that can only be used at their company buying what your company deems you need? This is antiquated thinking.

Make no mistake, the NCAA created the term student-athlete to avoid labor obligations.

Below is an excerpt from an interview that took place between former NCAA President Myles Brand and Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Rosenberg (2011).

Brand-"They can't be paid."
Rosenberg-"Why?"
Brand-"Because they're amateurs."
Rosenberg-"What makes them amateurs?"
Brand-"Well, they can't be paid."
Rosenberg-"Why not?"
Brand-"Because they're amateurs.”
Rosenberg-" Who decided they are amateurs?
Brand- "We did."
Rosenberg-" Why?"
Brand-"Because we don't pay them."'

The antitrust standing and non-profit status of the NCAA are under attack. This has worked for 75 years but it doesn’t mean that it’s right. There were a lot of businesses keeping cash off the books in the 1960’s as well. That doesn’t work today as tax compliance has evolved. Isn’t it time for the NCAA?

This week, the college basketball world will be in Atlanta to watch the collection of millionaire coaches zipping in and out of sponsor suites, shaking hands with donors and working on their next deal will in the shadows of 40+ student-athletes playing for school pride.

More than likely, Rutgers will be there searching for its next head coach by the time the championship game tips off on Monday night, looking for a savior to resurrect the dormant program and rebuild the university’s image.

The dawn of a new era embarks on New Brunswick and soon to be for colleges everywhere as the “old school” way for both coaches and their universities becomes a thing of the past. It is time they get paid.

Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports' coverage of college basketball and he is a frequent guest on radio shows across the nation. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein

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