A vigorous indictment of collegiate athletics, a system that enriches everyone except the athletes.
Writing with New York Times contributor Strauss, a specialist in college sports, business writer Nocera (Good Guys and Bad Guys: Behind the Scenes with the Saints and Scoundrels of American Business (and Everything in Between), 2010, etc.) comes out swinging: the NCAA is nothing short of a cartel intended to protect a system based on—well, something pretty close to involuntary servitude. To wit: college sports generate more than $13 billion in annual revenue, more than the NFL, but its 460,000-odd players are required to remain unpaid amateurs. Though only 5 percent of NCAA football and basketball players go on to professional careers, they are still professionals in all but name, worked by an establishment that “squeezes every dollar out of marquee athletes.” Most schools treat their athletes as prime and prized property; small wonder that one of the early characters in the book is a “fixer” whose job it was to take care of perks. All strictly illegal, of course, and reason for the NCAA, which had evolved rule books hundreds of pages long, to attempt reforms from time to time, as when philosopher and nonjock administrator Myles Brand was brought in to clean house in 2002. The proposed platform was utterly impractical, since it meant cutting back on such things as selling naming rights, licensing merchandise, and otherwise generating revenue for cash-strapped universities; in the end, the players were last on the list of concerns. It’s there that the narrative takes a surprising twist, as the players began to organize for themselves, making demands for compensation that caused one athletic director to complain, prophetically, “what’s to prevent all players from suing us to get a piece of every broadcast rights fee?” Though the tangled, ego-crossed effort fell apart in court, Nocera closes his deeply researched, anecdote-rich account by suggesting that reform efforts are far from ended.
Championship-level reporting on the boundaries of sport and business.