Ohio State's athletic department announced on Monday that quarterback J.T. Barrett's summer semester financial aid would be revoked as punishment for his arrest last weekend for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The revocation comes in addition to a suspension for next week's game against Minnesota, and coach Urban Meyer described his reasoning for the double-penalty like this:
"When a kid has an issue like that, there's some type of punitive damage."
Meyer wasn't making an argument. He was stating a fact. According to ESPN.com, Barrett wasn't subject to any suspension as a first-time offender of Ohio State's alcohol policy for underage students. His discipline was up to Meyer and the athletic department, which chose to penalize Barrett by taking money out of his pocket and making it harder for him to study.
Such is life at big-time college football programs, which invoke lofty, benevolent notions of education and amateurism to paper over authoritarianism and dictatorship, a system of one-way economic control.
Barrett, 20, blew a .099 blood alcohol content at a checkpoint near Ohio State's campus. That's certainly a serious offense. It's also why we have a legal system. According to ElevenWarriors.com, Barrett faces a first-degree misdemeanor for the OVI charge, suspension of his driver's license, and a fine of at least $375, although the possibility remains his charges may be reduced. In addition, he potentially faces three days of jail time, or 72 hours in a driver's intervention program.
Is that punishment enough? Not for Ohio State. Not only will Barrett lose his summer financial aid, he also will be barred from practicing with his teammates over the same period if he doesn't pay his own way for the summer semester. Summer semester at Ohio State for an out-of-state student like Barrett, a Texan, ranged from $3,301.75 for three credits to $13,187.00 for a full-time slate of 12 credits for the 2015 term.
According to OSU Athletics Communications Associate Director Jerry Emig, Barrett will remain on the football team even if he doesn't attend summer school. However, it's hard to believe that summer workouts are truly optional at elite programs like Ohio State, especially given Barrett's intense competition with fellow quarterback Cardale Jones over the past two seasons.
Hopefully, Barrett has been saving up his cost-of-attendance stipends.
I asked Emig over e-mail why Barrett's scholarship was suspended for the summer semester rather than the current fall semester, or even the upcoming spring semester. His answer was simply, "Summer term aid is discretionary. Scholarship aid for fall and spring semesters is not discretionary." In other words? Summer money was the money Ohio State could most easily take from Barrett, and so the school did.
Grand Valley State history professor Louis Moore, a keen observer and critic of college sports, describes Barrett's suspension as another example of college coaches and administrators exercising what he calls "plantation power." "One of the ways coaches, administrators and the NCAA use their power to maintain unfree labor is by controlling what they deem as benefits," Moore told VICE Sports in an email.
"In the case of Barrett, Urban Meyer took away the opportunity for Barrett to earn extra credits towards his degree, and, most importantly, some summer pocket money. While this punishment was specifically toward Barrett, Meyer also used it to serve as warning to others."
Indeed, Meyer has used this same disciplinary power at Ohio State in the past, revoking the summer scholarships of Jake Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort in 2012 after they pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charges after peeing on some buildings in Delaware, Ohio. "Taking away Barrett's summer money was his way to make other players 'stand in fear' of his power," Moore said. "To make them 'stand in fear' was common plantation language and instructions to masters on how to control their unfree population."
Perhaps Moore is exaggerating. But perhaps not. Earlier this year, Virginia Tech attempted to impose fines on its football players: $10 for missing breakfast; $15 for a report of "disruptive in class"; $50 for a dirty dorm or a dirty locker. Five players reportedly were fined a combined $350, with the money coming from their new cost-of-attendance stipends. Once the fines attracted scorn on social media and in the press, the school scuttled the practice, likely because it's hard to argue that revenue-sport athletes aren't school employees when you are, in fact, treating them like employees. Are scholarship non-athletes subject to fines for, say, missing chemistry lab?
At the time, National Collegiate Players Association director Ramogi Huma told CBSSports.com that "whether they can do this under NCAA rules or not, it shows the mindset of how these coaches are considering treating their players like property." Huma is right. What Meyer and other college coaches call discipline is more accurately called control. Athletes already are barred from reaping the fruits of their labor by the collusive cartel that is the NCAA and its member schools. Whenever those athletes step out of line—whenever a "kid" has an "issue," be it a serious legal offense or a messy locker—their financial aid, what little payment they do receive to go to school and buy books and pay for meals, is also threatened. Never mind that education is supposed to the whole point of the exercise.
At a 1969 conference of state athletic directors, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty said that "there are two great national institutions which simply cannot tolerate either internal dissension or external interference: our armed forces, and our interscholastic sports program. Both are of necessity benevolent dictatorships because by their very nature they cannot be otherwise." Nearly half a century later, his words ring half-true. College football remains a dictatorship, but it sure as hell isn't benevolent.