The Mercy Rule

Exploiting Amateurs

By David Roth

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The internet has given us access to an ever-wider array of data, from the finest high-definition niche pornography to news of revolution and riots from all over the planet. Which, of course, is a different thing than saying that we are all watching Golden Girls-themed porn or paying attention to Yemen. The actual work of seeking, reading, and masturbating is on us. The average college sports fan knows that the NCAA is in the process of reconfiguring itself, moving from regional-ish athletic conferences towards sprawling mega-conferences in search of better television deals and—what else?—more money. Just how fucking gross this development is, though, is the sort of thing you have to look for.

You don’t need to look all that hard, however. If you need to be reminded of the broad effed-ness of college sports, check out thisultra-comprehensive takedown of the NCAA's long-running racket in the Atlantic. Also take a look at the study showing that the average (uncompensated) big-time college football player generates $121,000 in annual revenue for his school. The obvious big change to be made in the NCAA—pay the players! Or at least fuck them over a little less!—has so far been ignored by the people running the show, who are happy to shuffle teams and conferences around for fun and (huge) profit, even as evidence shows76 percent of college football fans are opposed to mega-conferences. The folks in charge probably assume that most college football fans will forget about this in a couple months and head back to their team's message board for some all-caps blurting about how A&M fans are fags. It’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it is something of a bummer.

Admittedly, it's not like these Very Serious Stories about college sports have been ignored: Yahoo's big story on Miami’s rampant corruption has been shared on Facebook 54,000 times and—despite a 14,000-word length that exceeds the annual prose intake of the average Southeastern Conference football fan—that Atlantic article has been the most-read piece on the site for a week. But in a broader sense, and in more or less every way that could matter for the future of big-time college sports, all this internet evidence doesn't really matter—which is exactly why the NCAA is cruising towards an insanely profitable, hilariously unfair future.

Mega-conferences stand as double-middle-fingers both to geography (if you like Pittsburgh being in the “Atlantic” Coast Conference, you'll love Oklahoma in the “Pacific”-12) and college players' notional status as student-athletes, not to mention a realignment of rivalries that a bunch of people care about. And if it's tough to see a way in which Texas A&M's "student athletes" will benefit from a 925-mile mid-week trip for a basketball game against their SEC rivals at Florida, it's tougher still to read the coverage surrounding the formation of these new mega-conferences. Where there would ordinarily be it-used-to-be-about-the-music-man laments about money polluting amateur sports, you'll find only familiarly burpy sports-section cheerleading and the half-tumid money-humping more commonly found at Club for Growth hot-tub parties. That this lucrative "brand penetration"—and all the revenue that puts those diamond-cutter boners in sportswriters' khakis—depends entirely upon the NCAA's unpaid, benefits-free labor force gets left out.

For many fans, the appeal of college sports rests on a single and singularly soft-headed sentimentalism—the idea of players as uncorrupted, unusually gifted students competing only for the greater glory of their school and their sport. The argument for the NCAA, schools, and conferences hoarding the billions generated by these players—and for putting onerous restrictions on what those players can and cannot do—is grounded in that imaginary purity. Everyone who cares to know will quickly identify that mythos as some of the foulest, steamiest bullshit in American public life. But choosing not to know is an option, too. All that internet pornography can't search for you, after all, and the NCAA's greedheaded corpo-fuckery won't complicate things for fans who opt not to notice it.

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