You don’t have to go home, but you can’t go there

In today’s billion dollar industry that is college sports, there is still somehow this notion that these athletes are amateurs. But with the NCAA keeping up this fallacy that these are students first why can they legally restrict their transfer to another institution? Earlier this year, the former long-time defensive coordinator at the University of Alabama decided to take the Head Coaching job at the University of Georgia. After years of success at Alabama, Kirby Smart thought the time had come to run his own program and could not pass up the opportunity to coach his alma mater. I’m not saying that Smart did not deserve the opportunity or that he should not have taken it, but rather asking the question why can a paid coach jump between schools while an unpaid player is restricted? Just after Smart took the job, a backup running back named A.J. Turman requested a release from his scholarship and wished to transfer somewhere a little closer to his home in Florida. Smart granted his request with the condition that he was not allowed to go to any SEC school, or Miami where former Georgia coach Marc Richt is currently the head coach. So not only is Turman required to sit out a year, but now has his options limited as to where he can attend school. This situation in particular is hypocritical on numerous fronts. Kirby Smart jumped to Georgia from a fellow SEC program, and Nick Saban was not able to say he couldn’t. What might be the most ironic part about it is Smart’s message to the Georgia faithful when he took the job was “It’s good to be home” yet is limiting an athlete’s options to do the same.

While football transfers are higher profile, a similar situation happened at the University of Michigan. UM graduate Spike Albrecht  was restricted as to where he could transfer even as a graduate transfer who was told the team did not have a scholarship for him next season. Not only did Albrecht not receive a true salary from a school whose basketball program brings in millions, but the program was not even providing him with a scholarship for the next season. The NCAA states very often how these are students first, yet why can’t they go wherever they want to pursue a graduate degree after their completion of undergraduate coursework? Especially if their current school does not have the graduate program that this student desires to be in.  It is understandable as to why a coach would not want their star player competing in their conference, but most of the time it’s an athlete who has not had ample playing time anyway. It’s the backup looking for an opportunity to play, a 23 year old looking to attend grad school, or a player looking to move closer to his family. If a coach can take a player’s scholarship away or choose to take a different job anywhere else, the athlete should be guaranteed the same rights as well.

Restricting transfers of college athletes has become a common practice, but why has it become accepted? There isn’t any other line of work where you have your employers blessing to take another job. Even to entertain the idea that playing collegiate sports is not a job, are there restrictions on normal students as to where they decide to transfer? I’ve never heard of a University placing a restriction on a regular student in regard to transferring, even if it’s the school’s biggest rival. So why are athletes subject to “special rules” even though the NCAA continues to state that they are students first? If they NCAA is going to go forward with the whole “students first” narrative, they need to abolish school restrictions on transfers. I understand why they may not want a free agency like system with players hopping to different schools to get the best opportunity every year, but that’s why they require the player to sit out the year after a transfer. That year alone is enough of a restriction on transfer, so there’s no need to have any more.

When I think about these rules in the context of our society, I become even more astounded that these have continued as legal. I made a point earlier about how in most instances, it is illegal for a company to not allow an employee to leave and go work for another business. Even when I think about the NFL, after a player’s contract expires they can go play wherever they please. What most people don’t know is that an athlete’s scholarship is generally only for one year. So, after that year its renewal is at the discretion of the coach. Whether or not you will be able to play your sport at that school is unknown at a certain point. Also, it is up to the discretion of a coach who might not be there the following year.

It may be beating a dead horse to once again say that college athletes should be given a stipend (or at least given permission to use their brand), but by definition they are employees of the school. Like I had said earlier, the NCAA and the individual schools always talk about how much they care about the athlete’s well being. To a certain extent they may, but frankly I believe they care about the millions of dollars some sports bring in more. For some reason, coaches sometimes see a player leaving as a threat to the advancement of his or her career. If you’re worried about them competing against you, wouldn’t you make more of an effort to keep them in your program in the first place? Overall, giving coaches the ability to restrict an athlete’s transfer to certain schools is not fair to the athlete. Keeping these young men and women locked to a program that the coach could leave at any time, for any reason just is not right and I hope that in the coming years the NCAA will remove a school’s ability to regulate transfers.

 

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Guilty by Media

On March 13, ESPN aired their newest 30 for 30 film “Fantastic Lies”. The date at which this program aired carried significance, it was the 10th anniversary of a party hosted by the team at an off campus house  in which a woman by the name of Crystal Mangum had said she was raped by three members of the Duke Men’s Lacrosse team. To give some background on the situation, Magnum along with Kim Roberts, were exotic dancers hired by the team to perform. After a series of events, Ms. Mangum was admitted to the hospital claiming she had been sexually assaulted. After further questioning of Mangum, every member of the team was required to give a sample of the DNA. At this point, no player had been formally charged, but even after the DNA report came back with no evidence of the 41 players sampled District Attorney Mike Nifong continued with the case. Eventually, three players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans were formally charged with rape after Mangum picked them out of a photo lineup.  According to a report done by 60 Minutes, the next door neighbor to the house at which the events occurred had heard a number of racially charged slurs directed at Mangum including “Tell your Grandpa thanks for my cotton shirt”.

Once the media got a hold of this story, it turned into a firestorm. Before any evidence had been gone through and before any member of the team had been charged, the media swarmed the Duke campus and Lacrosse facility. They swarmed the players’ homes, their dorms, and even the homes of their families. Protests erupted on campus and columnists across the country were declaring them guilty and demanding they come forward and tell the police who the three assailants were. Mike Nifong was constantly on television giving interviews about how the arrogant and privileged were guilty of this assault on a young, African-American single mother. It should also be mentioned that Nifong was in the middle of a highly contested campaign for reelection, in an area that had a very large African-American population. After about a year of protests, threats of violence, the forced resignation of the Lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, the cancellation of the season, and tens of thousand dollars spent on research the three players were found to be innocent. During the trial, an expert witness that had analyzed the DNA report of Ms. Mangum admitted that Mike Nifong had withheld evidence that would have exonerated the players. As a result of this, Nifong was removed from the case, disbarred, and sentenced to 24 hours in jail for lying about sharing the DNA tests. Also, after the trial had concluded Ms. Mangum admitted that she had not been assaulted.

Let me start off by saying any type of sexual assault is horrible. It’s an absolutely heinous crime, second maybe only to actual murder. This incident included nearly every lingering, tension causing issue in society. It was white versus black, privileged versus poor, and man versus women. Putting all that and the fact that a district attorney withheld evidence to forward his own career, the one part of this I want to discuss is how much the media has an influence over society. This incident took place in 2006, and while social media existed in the forms of Myspace and the beginning forms of Facebook and Twitter it was nowhere near what it is today. So I imagine had the incident occurred today it would have been an even larger spectacle.

The point I want to make is how much of a grip the media has on society. The way it was portrayed in the media, the players were guilty. Anywhere you looked on any national news station, they were proclaiming them guilty. News reporters, talk show hosts, and columnists were all publishing their work demanding their expulsion, their arrest, and their sentencing before any evidence had even been processed. Not to mention it was the District Attorney, someone who is sworn to ethically perform their duties and defend the law making headlines on all these shows to get the free media attention. I see this as a huge problem with our society. I’ve had a chance to study politics a lot, and the reason why our founders created an independent judicial system was to keep politics and public opinion away from the courts so they could focus strictly on the law. Why has that changed so much today? Ultimately, the truth came out but based on the evidence the case should have never gone to trial. I think the main reason why the media has such a control on society is because people for some reason believe everything they hear. Why that’s true is a completely different road to go down but it’s clear that even 10 years later this represents a societal problem. No player on that team’s life was the same after that, and that’s especially true for the three players charged. They lost their athletic careers, their chance to earn a Duke degree and the trajectory of their lives was forever altered. I think it’s incidents like these that make the case for the argument as to why investigations should be kept sealed from the public until their completion.

One of the main questions that’s been asked is why did the media play such a role in it? Out of all the circumstances surrounding the story, what made it such a huge deal? Personally, I believe it was the race issue that fueled the fire especially in Durham, but other factors clearly contributed. One other thing I wanted to reiterate was that the actions of many members of the team that night were highly inappropriate and in no way am I condoning the hiring of dancers for a party or what was said by some of the players to the dancers. My main point is that the lives of three young men were destroyed and their names will always be associated with a crime they didn’t commit because the media fueled the fire and made everyone believe they were guilty. And while many in the press who had falsely judged them apologized after the fact, the damage had already been done and there was no reversing it.