|April 6, 2006|
Tahj Holden vs. the Madness of March
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Countless office pools, hundreds of millions in on-line betting, and multi-billion dollar TV contracts. Welcome to amateur athletics in 2006. Welcome to the NCAA tournament.
Amateur comes from the Latin meaning you are doing something for sheer "love." There may be love, but it is at present an abusive relationship between the players and the "Madness of March." After all the smoke and fireworks have cleared, what we have is a multi-billion dollar enterprise earned on the backs of players who don't see a dime, begging the question whether a Civil War was in fact fought to end such arrangements.
A good start in understanding what's at work would be to hear from a player who has been part of the NCAA's "amateur experience" both on the court and off. Such a player is Tahj Holden. Holden was a critical part of the University of Maryland's 2002 NCAA championship team. The 6' 10" forward while playing was also part of the Atlantic Coast Conference's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C.) which is a players' committee assembled to provide insight on the student-athlete experience and offer input on the rules and regulations that affect their lives. Tahj Holden has the unique insight of someone who not only was a prime time NCAA player, but is now an NCAA critic.
"The NCAA as an institution to me is a fraudulent company in my opinion. I fail to understand how it can be considered a non-profit organization," he says in a speaking style both soft-spoken and strikingly direct. "For example, in 1999, the NCAA signed a $6 billion contract with CBS allowing it to televise the tournament through 2013. Coca-Cola recently coughed up $500 million to be the NCAA's official soft drink. No athlete I know drinks Coke in the middle of a game. Another thing that I don't like is that the NCAA and the colleges are using the high profile athletes and not educating them. Many go on after their playing careers are done into the real world totally unprepared for life."
Holden sees paying student-athletes as a step toward a more equal and less abusive relationship between the NCAA and its players. "I truly believe that athletes should receive a stipend of some sort. Athletes basically work two full time jobs with sports and academics. They should be paid for their labor. I hate the argument that athletes get room and board and that should be good enough, because there are people that receive academic scholarships that get the same benefits, yet they aren't required to travel and practice like the athletes. The people that have these academic scholarships can go out and get in trouble with the law yet not be in USA Today." He also points out that the life of a high profile college athlete is far from just playing ball and partying.
"It consists of hours of practice, school work, and in many cases community service. For example, a typical day would be: wake up and get to the gym by 6:30 am to lift weights, class from 8 am to 2:30 pm, practice at 3:30 pm to 6 pm, and mandatory study hall from 8 pm to 1 am. Wake up and then do it all again, perhaps sans the weight lifting everyday. On top of that, some team members are asked to go speak to kids and do things around the community in their spare time. The athletes are much more scrutinized and have much more to lose than an ordinary student. Also, the universities make millions of dollars from the labor that the athletes put through. Conversely, the students that receive academic scholarships in no way make up for the money that they are given for simple good grades."
Holden wants to work to advance institutional solutions. "I would like to see the NCAA have more programs for life skills after college. The regular student gets a better sense of what life is in the real world vs. what it's like when there is nobody there telling you when to get up and when to be somewhere. As for education, the NCAA is trying to rectify what is going on in basketball and football programs. However, I fear that the athletes will get degrees but not learn anything. They will be put in academic programs that will get them degrees that will not help them after college. I don't know how one can regulate thousands of athletes and what their classes are, but something has to be done."
Something will be done. But it starts with not only watching and cheering for the Tahj Holdens of the world, but hearing what they have to say.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Dave Zirin is the author of 'What's My Name Fool?': Sports and Resistance in the United States. He is speaking at the conference "Socialism 2006," June 22-25, in New York City, with Etan Thomas and Toni Smith. See www.socialismconference.org. A version of "The Madness of March" appeared in the April 2, 2006, Los Angeles Times.]
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