TOPICS > Nation

Amid New NCAA Football Scandals, ‘The Root of the Problem Is Money’

September 2, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
After a series of offseason ethics scandals, the most explosive involving the University of Miami, college football kicks off its season this weekend. Jeffrey Brown discusses the recent space of scandals with Kevin Blackistone of ESPN and the University of Maryland and Chad McEvoy of Illinois State University.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, we’re joined by Kevin Blackistone of ESPN — he teaches sports journalism at the University of Maryland — and Chad McEvoy, who teaches sports management at Illinois State University and has studied athletic program violations.

Chad McEvoy, starting with you, even in a period of bad news for college sports, this Miami case surprised a lot of people. What do you make of the allegations of what’s going on there?

We seem to be having some technical problems in Illinois.

So, I will ask you — I will ask you, Kevin, what you think of it, of the situation at Miami.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE, University of Maryland: Well, it’s very titillating, any time you have a felon spilling the beans and talking about prostitution involved in the dealings with these young guys at the University of Miami.

But it’s — you know, it’s part of a long story that’s been going on in college sports for a very long time. We have had any number of violations looked into this year. We can go all the way back to the 1980s. And even — even before that, it’s part and parcel of collegiate athletics, but it’s probably getting worse.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, how do you define the problem? Miami involves a college booster. Some of these — that’s in a number of cases.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some of these cases involve sports agents.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s always money involved, right?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: That is the key.

JEFFREY BROWN: That is it.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: I mean, the root of the problem is money. And money has corrupted college sports.

And in all these cases you just pointed out, it’s athletes who are the labor force, whose blood and sweat is the backbone of the billion-dollar industry, the multibillion-dollar industry that is collegiate athletics. And they see everyone around them benefiting from their blood and sweat. And they feel that, why not? Why shouldn’t we take a little something extra for ourselves? And that’s exactly what’s happened.

JEFFREY BROWN: Chad McEvoy, are you back with us?

CHAD MCEVOY, Illinois State University: Absolutely.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Sorry about that problem.

Well, I don’t know if you heard where we are so far, but I was just asking about how you define the situation that we’re seeing at Miami and so other — so many other colleges right now. What’s going on?

CHAD MCEVOY: Yes, well, I did hear, and I think Kevin’s absolutely correct.

We have got a system in which millions, hundreds of millions of dollars are involved. We have athletic programs with budgets over $100 million a year. We have got boosters and others that — agents and so on — that want a piece of that pie (AUDIO GAP) we have student athletes, particularly at high-profile football and men’s basketball programs that see all of that money out there and are interested in getting some of that as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Chad, we heard Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, in our tape piece.

This question of the pervasiveness, has anybody figured out how pervasive, whether everyone bends or breaks the rules, or whether it’s a case of a small group of bad apples? Anybody know for sure?

CHAD MCEVOY: Yes, difficult to define, of course, to compare one era to another. We, of course, live in an age, a media world in which we hear about these scandals on television 24 hours a day, instantaneously on the Internet, Twitter, these sorts of things.

So hard to tell whether they are more pervasive or we just have more access to that information.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Kevin, I mentioned the so-called death penalty.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: The last time that was implemented what was SMU in 1987, I think.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Exactly.

JEFFREY BROWN: A long time.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: A long time ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: When they look now at possible penalties for these schools, what’s possible and what are the realities of the situation?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, obviously, that is the guillotine.

But before they get to the guillotine, they can do all sorts of things. They can do what they have done right now, which is to force players not to play on the field. They can take away scholarships. They can restrict recruiting visits by coaching staffs. They can do those sorts of things.

The absolute last straw or last hammer is the death penalty. And after what happened at SMU — and I had just moved to Dallas when that decision came down — after the havoc that that wrecked on that university, I doubt that they will ever do that again.

But, you know, the odd thing about this to me is — and we touched on it before — the money issue. This Miami case in particular has really kind of confused everything, because it really has kind of put a smoke bomb in the room. And all of the sudden, we have taken our focus off of what the real problem is. And that’s all the money that is in college sports.

One of the scandals that we didn’t mention happens to go back to the Fiesta Bowl this year, where John Junker, the CEO, lost his job, which paid him almost $700,000 a year, where the Fiesta Bowl pulled in, in terms of revenue, $11 million, $12 million dollars per game.

And they lost it because he was, one, forcing some of his employees to make political contributions which is illegal if you are a nonprofit, which the Fiesta Bowl is supposed to be, and also because they were showering the people who run college football with all sorts of financial gifts, including taking them to strip clubs. That came out in the investigation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well…

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: But they don’t get the hammer.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Chad, when you look at this question of possible reforms, which has been talked about a whole lot, you talk — you look at the institutions themselves, the coaches on up to the university presidents.

Now, are they not taking it that seriously, does it look like? Or do the benefits of the college game outweigh any possible black eyes? What — how does it look to you?

Oh, I think we have — we still have technical troubles. Sorry about that.

Kevin.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, I will answer that.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: If you look at Ohio State University, Ohio State University’s football team, I think, the other year brought in over $67 million worth of revenue to a university that, like most other public universities in this country that have large football programs, are getting less and less dollars from the state coffer.

So all of a sudden, the board of regents are looking for new revenue streams, and who do they turn to? They turn to the football team. So the football team has to do anything and everything it can, not only to try and win, but also to try and win and bring in — bring in money that they often give back to the university.

It is a very — to me, a very unholy alliance that we have right now between what is a revenue-generating operation in college athletics placed under the umbrella of a nonprofit institution of higher education, which, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a mission statement that says, win the national championship, produce All-Americans, that sort of thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in the meantime, as we said, the games go on, right?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. And I will be watching them this weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

Kevin Blackistone, thanks so much.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Chad McEvoy, our apologies for the technical troubles. Thanks a lot.