The College Sports Pharaohs’ Talking Points: Protecting Their Dying Protectorate

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”— Antonio Gramsci


If you are Big12 Commish Bob Bowlsby, or the BigTen’s Jim Delaney, or UNC AD Bubba Cunningham, or Texas AD Steve Patterson — or NCAA President Mark Emmert, or new VP Kenner, you ‘attend’  many of the same meetings or conference calls — and you also get many of the same lawyer’s briefing memos, meant to maximize and protect the NCAA’s legal and financial position. These imagined ‘Talking Points’ memos (protected by attorney-client privilege, so they’ll never see the light of day) have resulted in repeated public statements by these Pharaohs of the Business of College Sports, which are themselves the kinds of ‘morbid symptoms’ which appear as an old system is dying and a new one cannot immediately be born.

These Pharaoh Talking Points have four themes:


Talking Point #1 — Protect the ‘Collegiate Model’:  The NCAA lawyers, and the Pharaohs, recognize that the onslaught of public criticism and recent litigation has made it clear that amateurism is a propped-up charade. So they came up with a novel solution:  stop defending amateurism at all!

The Pharaohs have given up on amateurism, and switched to defending something brand new, which no one has can define: ‘The Collegiate Model.’

Nobody knows what this is. In fact, the ‘Collegiate Model’ will be whatever sausage these Pharoahs might eventually get thrust upon them by public pressure and legal edict over the coming years. And the Pharaohs don’t care too much about the precise parameters of that sausage; as long as their two bedrock concerns are satisfied: a) maintaining their privileged, largely unregulated position of power and control over the business of college sports; and b)  preventing, as much as possible, any governmental oversight which might require a significant change in the way these Pharaohs decide to pass out the tsunami of cash which has flooded the NCAA and schools  over the last 25 years. Things Go Better, as the old Coke refrain said, with The Collegiate Model.

So when you hear Bowlsby, or Patterson, or Emmert insist that they are just defending the ‘Collegiate Model’ you will recognize that this is only a desperate cry to allow these Pharoahs to maintain the status quo, and to keep others — the NLRB, or state wage and hour commissions, or the federal antitrust and other regulators and courts — from dictating to them that the NCAA’s astonishing tsunami of cash must be distributed differently.

When They Say Protect the ‘Collegiate Model,’ They Mean ‘Protect Our Protectorate’: In fact, for more than a century, the NCAA has been a ‘protectorate,’ not at all unlike the four protectorates imposed upon China, back in the mid-1800’s, by the U.S., France, Britain and Portugal, regarding their operations in Shanghai. Within those four countries’ carved-out areas of Shanghai, foreign businesses operated entirely free of any Chinese civil or criminal jurisdiction. The NCAA operates within a similar regulatory ‘protectorate’ here in the U.S., substantially unfettered by the kind of governmental regulation to which every other American business has been subjected during that same century, including statutes relating to antitrust, wage and hour, much taxation, workers’ comp, social security and ERISA — among many others.

When the Pharaohs of College Sports Business Management complain that we all need to protect their ‘Collegiate Model,’ this is, then, their code for insisting that they do not want any encumbrances imposed upon their century-old regulatory-free Protectorate.

2. Talking Point #2:  The NCAA’s “scholarship” program is the greatest scholarship program in the entire US, since the post-WWII GI Bill.  This was first trotted out a year year ago, as best I can tell, by UNC AD Bubba Cunningham, and it occurred to me then that he had dreamed it up while drinking PBR’s in some north-Georgia ‘Bubba-bar.’ And then Texas AD Steve Patterson picked it up, and made it a part of his standard Donald Rumsfeld ‘I-know-better-than-anyone-what-is- pragmatic-true-and-possible’ schtick. And now Bob Bowlsby has made it a part of his ponderous standard ‘address-at-the-Lincoln-Memorial’ which he deigns to deliver.

This is a wild, grand claim, which is entirely unexplained but also, most likely, nonsense –which no one has challenged, despite the obvious unanswered questions: ‘Second only to the GI Bill?’ By what measure? In total dollar payout? In number of scholarship? Does the statistic refer to the total amount of college so-called ‘athletic scholarships’ — or all scholarships, both academic and athletic, handed out by all schools, since WWII? Is the claim that college athletic scholarships outstrip Pell Grants? It’s all highly unlikely.


Talking Point #3: ‘The Year of Readiness’: The was a sort of ‘one-conference’ Talking Point, made for the Big Ten’s Delany to take out and use on one flank. And Delaney took up the cause, by recently announcing the Big Ten’s ‘Year of Readiness’ proposal, which is just the old ‘freshman ineligibility’ principle, recycled, with a new name manufactured by the NCAA propaganda machine.

But don’t be fooled. This proposal is going nowhere, and the Pharaohs, including Delany, knew it wasn’t when they trottted it out as a part of a strategy to gain favor with Congress and other potential regulators. We will see, sometime in the near future, Delany testifying before some committee about the some need to preserve antitrust protection for the NCAA, waiving the flag of NCAA alleged deep concern for the ‘academic’ welfare of the ‘student-athlete,’ and asserting that ‘we really tried, we really just couldn’t get to [freshman ineligibility] as a part of our devotion to academic success– all as a basis for the Pharaohs key claim that their Protectorate should continue to be protected.

Bob Bowlsby - Big12

Bob Bowlsby – Big12

Talking Point #4: If we pay players, “we will have lost our way forever”: This vague assertion is one of Bob Bowlsby’s favorites. He uses it because it neither informs or reasons with his audience —  but also commits him to nothing in particular. (My reaction is: if the Pharaohs who rule college sports are set out in the woods, like Hansel and Gretel, with no bread crumbs, and then lose their way, it will represent solid progress. )  Taken at face value, though, this warning by the Pharaohs is another high-minded phrase articulating the Pharaoh’s own low-minded animating notion: what is most important is the preservation of the unique Protectorate which they enjoy, and their power and control over the distribution of the tsunami of cash at their fingertips.

These Talking Points are only some of the morbid  symptoms which have appeared as we watch the old, unfair and corrosive college sports Protectorate in the process of dying. The actions and words of these Pharaohs of the College Sports Business Protectorate are significant rear-guard factors working hard to prevent a just, fair new college sports business system from being born.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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