osuhelmetThere are both advantages and disadvantages to democracy, but the most favorable aspect that trumps all others is that, in its truest form, common people are represented in a way that allows them to influence the creation and application of law so that it reflects the generally accepted values of a society. Yes, this has and will continue to pose problems for minorities living in a society that doesn’t account for the comfort of others, but at the core of the democratic ideal is an allowance for social change and a protection against the elite hoarding power.

These are good things. However, we’re sometimes susceptible to trickery by the upholders of the status quo – who often have the most to lose through social change – exerting their influence to cause us to believe that certain values are more generally accepted than they actually are. This is frequently done on a political level, a cultural level and less seriously, on a sporting level.

In college sports, we’ve long been taught the virtue of amateurism. It’s a patently false virtue, originated by the high society organizers of the first Modern Olympic Games as a means of glorifying the accomplishments of the aristocratic athlete at the expense of the working class who required professional status as a means of paying for training. When we attach any amount of reason to the discussion around compensation for college athletes, it becomes abundantly clear that they should be paid for generating revenue for their school and risking their own ability to make future income by participating in athletic competitions where debilitating injury is always a possibility.

To not compensate student athletes is quite obviously exploitation. However, those who stand to benefit most from maintaining the status quo are better off battling the perception than altering rules.

This is why we’re so often prompted to shake our heads and produce patronizing tsk tsk tsk sounds when it’s revealed that college athletes have received money through channels that contradict the blatantly unethical rules of the NCAA – who oversee college sports in the United States. There is no finer or more recent example of this than Sports Illustrated’s so-called exposé on the Oklahoma State football program.

According to the first of a five part investigative report, Cowboys players were paid for on-field performances, received handouts from boosters and given part-time jobs for which they didn’t actually have to show up to work. It’s all presented in a damning manner, condeming the players, coaches and boosters involved.

And then, there’s this final paragraph:

At Oklahoma State the bonus system, the booster and coach payouts, and the bogus jobs provided players with money that was seldom spent on extravagances. One or two standouts bought a new car or expensive jewelry, team members say, but the vast majority of the players used the extra cash to purchase everyday items — food, clothing, tickets to a movie. “There were some athletes who were almost starving,” says Carter. “Wherever the money came from, they were like, Yeah, I’ll take that.”

This final paragraph does a much better job of describing a systemic problem within the NCAA than it does the Oklahoma State football program. It’s a shame that the previous forty paragraphs are engaged in creating a false balance to an issue that shouldn’t exist. It’s a bit like arresting the boy who steals bread to feed his family, while completely ignoring the system in place that would require a boy to steal bread to feed his family.

Part two of the series dealt with academic misconduct and the lack of priority placed on educating the school’s football players. While it’s impossible to defend or excuse any sort of cheating or academic dishonesty, a general apathy toward learning isn’t unique to Cowboys players, or even college athletes. It’s the vast majority of university students. Remember your lack of motivation to do the smart thing when you were 20-years-old? Now, imagine the lack of motivation to study when you’re already committing so much time to the university’s athletic program.

Again, we come across a problem that isn’t so much Oklahoma State University’s, as it is the system under which their student athletes – a frustrating term to begin with – compete in a money making industry for the school and the organization that oversees it all.

Part three, which came out today, made the truly shocking and appalling claim that university students – who also played football – engaged in drug use at OSU. Imagine. Young people. Smoking marijuana. In college. These are the true findings of a real investigative report.

Tomorrow, the fourth part of the series will be released. It’s expected to reveal that sex was used as a recruiting technique. No one will say that this is a good thing. However, the titles of each section being laid out as they’re the seven deadly sins (The Money, The Academics, The Drugs, The Sex) only serves to increase the salaciousness of the entire piece, and push us toward imagining sexual activity among teenagers to be unacceptable.

Through it all, it remains myopic to point solely at the school or its administrators or its athletes as being at fault when the entire system under which the NCAA operates acts as an enabler to any practice with which we might genuinely find fault. It’s disappointing that the potentially real issues like academic dishonesty and the possible sexual exploitation of recruiting hostesses are mixed in with financial improprieties and marijuana use, but here we are. The report is a surface one, like a dentist treating cavities and exaggerating plaque as though they’re same thing, all while never looking into the root of the actual problem.

Nonetheless, judging by the response to the Sports Illustrated piece, I feel as though we’re approaching a tipping point. The system that governs college athletics, that has largely dodged criticism in the report so far, is growing less and less generally acceptable. To those who see through the uselessness of condemning the actions of exploited athletes and specific programs, the piece feels like the prosecution of someone for lewd behavior as defined by Victorian standards in front of a modern day jury.

The status quo in college sports isn’t what’s generally accepted anymore. We just have to think about it a little bit, and through that thought process we’ll find an organization in desperate need of a shaking up.