So, one of my assignments for my audio production class is to create a podcast series, with an emphasis on the production and mixing involved. I of course chose to talk about college sports and the NCAA, so I’ve gone all-in on it. But it’s an intro class, meaning the mixing is definitely not professional quality. So, in the interest of protecting your ears, I decided to adapt it into a blog series as well. For the next 10 weeks, I’ll be posting my new series: Failure to Monitor. (Side note: the prompt for the first episode was to talk about why I was qualified to speak on the topic, so forgive the unusual amount of bragging in this one.)
In this series, I am going to walk you through a brief history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, better known as the NCAA. This is the organization that governs the vast majority of college sports in the United States, and over the years it has grown into one of the biggest businesses in the country. However, the NCAA is unique in that it is a coalition of universities that are further divided up into conferences. While most people think of the national office in Indianapolis when they hear the term “NCAA”, these conferences and member schools themselves are what make up this organization. This has made the extent of their authority somewhat of a gray area throughout their existence because their power comes from the schools that they govern. This means that the majority of their power comes from precedent. This precedent is only set by past action, so it would take something like a scandal to get the opportunity to set a meaningful precedent. Well, like any governing body, they have had to deal with their fair share of scandals. They’ve dealt with everything from cheating, to criminal acts, to lawsuits that have even reached the highest court in the land: The United States Supreme Court. Therefore, these scandals and trials have helped build the organization into the monolith that it is now. But how exactly did they get to where they are today? How did they get all this power? How did dealing with scandals change who they are? The answers to those questions are exactly what I’m going to be covering over the course of these ten posts.
College sports have been a constant in my life. I grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, home of the Southeastern Conference’s Ole Miss Rebels. The town lived and died on the back of Ole Miss football, and I wish that was an exaggeration. I have been going to college football, basketball, and baseball games ever since I can remember. I didn’t just get to see what happened on the field either. Oxford is a very small town, so I got to know a lot of people who worked in the industry and saw what happened behind the scenes. And, as with any big business, there was definitely a dark side to this love of mine. The one figure looming over everyone was the NCAA, and they ruled with an iron fist. Despite sacrificing their bodies every week, the players weren’t allowed to get paid a dime. Even as the school made millions, the players got nothing. In fact, my family technically committed NCAA violations. We befriended a few football players through our church, and every year would invite over a handful of players who weren’t able to go home and have Thanksgiving dinner with their families. As cruel as it sounds, this is illegal in the world of college sports. The NCAA’s watchful eyes had extended far beyond the realm of fairness, and into the realm of absurdity. Somewhere along the way, a lust for power overtook the wellbeing of the very players they were created to protect. They had become sports’ Big Brother. Ever since then, I have been passionate about this issue, and have spent my time learning all that I can about the NCAA. What makes it tick, what drives the people in charge, and how it became what it is now.
Over the course of my college career, I have been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to explore this passion to the fullest. I have been able to take courses dedicated entirely to the history and structure of the NCAA, with a focus on how its current form is created to make money at the expense of athletes. The University of South Carolina, where I received my first undergraduate degree, is the home of the College Sport Research Institute. I even got the chance to write my undergraduate thesis under the tutelage of Dr. Richard Southall, the director of this institute. Over the years I have supplemented this study with plenty of independent research by seeking out writers who shared the same interests as mine. Those who looked beyond the scoreboard and into the boardroom. I even got some firsthand experience, as I saw the effect that the NCAA’s punishment can have, as my hometown Ole Miss Rebels were caught up in a major scandal just a few years ago. It rocked the small town to its core, and it was truly one of the most surreal moments of my life. All of this knowledge has given me a good foundation, and it gives me the good fortune of being able to share some of it with you all.
I firmly believe that history is the greatest teacher we have, no matter the subject. This is no different when it comes to the NCAA. The story of this organization is one of scandal, power, and overall, greed. As a lover of both college sports and history in general, I want to show you all the impact that history can have. How a small group of bureaucrats navigated the waters of outrage and scrutiny to become a cultural icon that’s as American as apple pie. So join me, as I take you on a trip back in time to see how big-time college sport became what it is today.