Schooled was produced with one purpose in mind: to attack the NCAA as a corrupt and immoral organization withholding rights from the players the film views as laborers. This is a systematic attack ad again exposing the hypocrisy in the NCAA, the backwards ideas spewing forth from the organization’s officials on why they can’t pay players. (President Mark Emmert at one point argues against the joke that the NCAA has the best salary cap in sports by stating simply, “There are no salaries,” as if that’s the end of the conversation instead of precisely the problem.) Forty out of 50 state universities make football or basketball head coaches the highest paid state employees. Merchandising has grown exponentially since the 1980s. Television deals are more lucrative than ever. And the players, the physical labor that makes the system run, haven’t seen a dime. Schooled has an angry, indignant tone, but methodically states the obvious case for at the very least allowing for the players’ voices to be in the room with university presidents and athletic directors.
The film’s best evidence is systematically unraveling and debunking the now long-ridiculous myth of amateurism in college sports. Even the Greeks didn’t adhere to this idea of unpaid athletes, since ancient Olympians were compensated with land and women. The idea began in England as a way to keep working class people from being able to support themselves as athletes, and carried over to Ivy League football teams. But it really didn’t take a stranglehold on collegiate athletics until the first NCAA employee and first executive director Walter Byers. He pioneered the term student-athlete as a way to deflect potential workman’s compensation lawsuits from players or families. It manifested in the case of a TCU player with a brutal neck injury, and the NCAA wriggling out of any financial obligation.
That set the precedent that the colleges that reap all the benefits of the gruesome torment exerted on the human body do not have to take care of players because they are not employees, they are playing simply “for the love of the game” while others line their pockets. It’s a disposable way to look at athletes, and strips them of some basic humanity, denying them medical care and proper compensation for being a football player first and a student second. The rampant over-admittance of revenue sport athletes who cannot perform up to rigorous academic standards is a growing problem within places that should be more focuses on higher learning.
A Sports Illustrated writer paraphrases former University of California President Clark Kerr’s witty line: “This is what I’ve learned about college: The students want sex, the faculty want parking, and the alumni want football.” It’s perfectly indicative of the style in which Schooled wants to make its case: witty, ire-inducing, and focused on holding attention through entertainment and shock value while throwing in a very clear message against the NCAA.
Athletic ability is a marketable skill, but college athletes—specifically in the sports that would net the most money, are not only prevented from making money off their skill, but required to go through four years at college risking health and potential livelihood just so they might be able to get drafted. Arian Foster—who provided the highly publicized comments about receiving improper benefits and gifts circulating last week—compares the college football agreement between players and the university to amount to little more that indentured servitude. And considering they have room and board provided but receive no wages, it’s not an unclear observation.
Baseball has an extensive minor league system in place to scout the best high school talent and fold it into. The NBA has the D-League, with a rising number of teams, which has been a part of the league since 2001. And international soccer has countless professional development academies associated with the big clubs to track talented players from a very young age. But for the major revenue sports in college—football and men’s basketball, leading a wide margin over any other NCAA sport—there’s absolutely no need for a new league for new/young players. That leaves out that professional basketball and football leagues are have no incentive to replace the top two college sports.
“What does amateurism provide to the athlete? Is the athlete a better student, person, or athlete by virtue of their amateurism? I think the answer is no.”
Jay Bilas points out one of the obvious hypocrisies, noting that his nephew gets paid as the student body president of Kentucky, which would make an athlete immediately ineligible. Or consider Bilas’ other oft-repeated but resonant point: that any other student is not only allowed to but encouraged to pursue professional endeavors outside academics while attending school. Nobody tells an English major they can’t sell a novel or an engineer they can’t team up with a business major to start a company. It would be patently absurd to prevent those students from making money off of their marketable skills, but turn that person into a scholarship athlete, and it’s a controversy.
And further, the student/athlete divide is so mystifyingly archaic that the Cam Newton example gets brought up again. If a math student made money off of a job and turned around to provide money to his father, it would be front-page news praising the kid’s ingenuity for applying his skills to the market. But if Cam Newton gave money to his father, he’s an unethical cheat. Schooled lays out how the NCAA has made what isn’t actually illegal in the world—accepting money for services and providing them to family members in need—and made it despised by college football media. Players trying to provide are vilified for accepting money from sources they shouldn’t have to turn to.
But even after all the damning evidence, it must be noted that Schooled traffics in isolated cases. The UNC-Chapel Hill academic fraud scandal and the undue blame showered down on Devon Ramsay occurred at one institution with one NCAA official in Indianapolis. Kent Waltrip is one many incredibly tragic stories. But Schooled never backs these singular observations with data, instead extrapolating the worst of the problems to every major program across the country. While there’s little doubt that many more schools commit violations and don’t report them on a daily basis, there’s also not a lot of hard evidence this is all happening nationwide.
The most cogent anti-pay talking head is the chancellor of Nebraska, and even he comes off as a bit of a fool by taking his position. He makes a fair point—about something not many schools can claim—that Nebraska is one of the strongest brands in college football regardless of the players on the field. Those fans show up week in and week out. But otherwise, everyone even loosely associated with the NCAA who gives an anti-pay statement can’t seem to form anything other than an insultingly unintelligent and condescending sentence against those who dare to stand up to the NCAA. The organization started as one man over 50 years ago, and even Byers himself has come around on his boneheaded justification for keeping up the sham of amateur college athletes. Now, the organization can’t enforce academic penalties until years after the fact. Look, this isn’t really a business issue at a certain point, it’s a moral issue. The NCAA and the college administrators want a lot more money, so they’re not looking to treat the young kids under the helmets with respect and humanity. On a basic level, this is about getting the well-deserved rights of the players recognized. Schooled lays out the case in a convincing fashion even if the viewer is leaning away from paying players. It may be rote, with stock footage, and talking head interviews, but it has so many witty and charming participants that every tidbit of information, new or not, helps to either convert people to thinking college athletes deserve their rightful revenue share, or confirms already firm beliefs against the NCAA.
- Here’s an idea: combine two different ways to pay players. Pay all of the scholarship athletes at the bare minimum the amount that isn’t covered between the scholarship and the cost of attending the university on an annual basis. In addition, let any athlete in any sport reap the benefits of commercial endorsements. That way an Iowa State wrestler can make something that the Texas A&M quarterback can too. It doesn’t solve the issue of giving the players a fair piece of the revenue they generate, but it could be a step.
- Mark May is one of the worst offenders of shaming players for accepting improper benefits, considering he accepted some while he played at Pitt.
- The O’Bannon lawsuit: now it’s just against the NCAA, since the plaintiffs settled with EA Sports, but the studio has already cancelled next year’s version.