The Knight Commission met in Washington DC this past week. This is a body of experts and academics dedicated to leading college sports reform.
The biggest news came from NCAA VP Kevin Lennon, whose pedantic, humorless presentation bordered on the incoherent. But a few of his words were revolutionary. Lennon unveiled, for the first time, the NCAA’s brand-new 2015 Euphemism of the Year: “Being College-Eligible.”
Though I was caught short when I heard him mention this new term, and thereafter tried to pay close attention, I still have no idea what it means — because Lennon showed no interest in explaining it.
“Being College Eligible” is, I might guess, somehow vaguely related to an earlier Euphemism of the Year, dreamed up by former NCAA executive director Miles Brand in 2007: “The Collegiate Model.” I’ve heard this one so many times that I now imagine the instruction (from NCAA lawyers and PR people), atop every NCAA speaker’s ‘Talking Points Memo’: “REMEMBER, STOP USING THE TERM ‘AMATEURISM — SUBSTITUTE THE TERM “THE COLLEGIATE MODEL.”
Though Lennon intoned that “there’s no question that the public depends on our member institutions for providing the clarity and the guidance in defining this concept of amateur sports,” Lennon never provided any such clarity or guidance. He never explained either of these euphemisms — though he made sure to remind his audience, like some Soviet-era bureaucrat, that it is important to understand, “what it means to be college eligible, based on your experiences either before college or in college.” These are, after all — according to Lennon — “foundational principles of what it means to be college eligible.”
Apparently having consulted early that morning with the Oracle at Delphi, Lennon also very somberly pronounced that paying players would drive a “wedge between student-athletes and the student body, corrosive to student-athletes and those who support student-athletes,” yet similarly resisted any urge to provide his audience with any facts or explanation in support of this zany assertion — or his next goofy assertion, which was that “amateurism rules have prevented college sports from becoming commercialized” [!]
My guess is that these NCAA euphemisms have been rolled out to reflect an underlying reality: the NCAA bosses don’t really care at all about amateurism, and fully expect that pressing legal and social trends (and even considerable public ridicule) will require them to abandon one or all of amateurism’s ‘tenets.’ What these NCAA executives are signalling is that they value most the ability to continue to control the tsunami of money which runs through college sports, whether or not the system continues to abide by alleged principles of amateurism. By touting the new 2015 “Being College Eligible” euphemism, the NCAA is signalling it has already left amateurism behind.
So much for fealty to principle, and good-by to Amateurism. And let me know if you can define for me how “Being College Eligible” is a “foundational” element in the long history of “The Collegiate Experience” in college sports. Having been steeped in the NCAA’s aggressive mythology which asserts that amateurism had its roots in the original Greek Olympics some two thousand years ago, am I now supposed to change gears, and believe that what was actually most athletically important to those Greeks, after all, was that their competitors were ‘College Eligible’ as a part of some ‘Collegiate Experience?’