College Basketball Needs To Shut Down During The COVID-19 Pandemic
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: March 04, Pitt at Georgia Tech
Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel during an NCAA basketball game in Atlanta, GA on March 4, 2020. Credit - Rich von Biberstein - Icon Sportswire / Getty Images
This month, two college men's basketball coaches finally had the courage to publicly answer a question on many of our minds: Why are unpaid athletes risking their health and safety to play games during a pandemic, especially when COVID cases and deaths throughout Land increase? Country? At the start of the pandemic in March, college basketball closed its postseason to protect athletes. On the afternoon of December 7th, Jeff Capel, the University of Pittsburgh coach, said, "These kids are away [from their families] and they are out and they put it on the line to entertain people." Something doesn't feel right right now. The numbers were as they were in March. I look at it every day man. It seems like it's getting worse every day. I don't know why you're canceling in March, but you say it's okay to do now. But what do i know? "
Capel also admitted what we have long known: Great college basketball players who fuel a multi-million dollar industry that enriches so many people besides themselves act as uncompensated professionals. "One of the things that has come out of all of this since it all happened in March when the season was canceled. I don't think anyone can say anymore that these young men are amateurs," said Capel. "That's out the window. You are not. You absolutely are not."
The night after Capel's comments, Duke's most successful college coach ever, Mike Krzyzewski, also questioned the wisdom of playing the 2020-2021 season when he reiterated his former assistant in a post-game press conference. "I don't think it feels right for anyone," said Krzyzewski. "I mean everyone is worried ... do I think things should be done a little differently? Yes. I mean, you know, a lot of kids, kids won't be able to go home for Christmas, probably at a time when they should be for mental health. We're just plowing this through. "
Krzyzewski's words drew mainstream media attention more to the issue at hand: the injustice of the amateur model of college basketball during the COVID-19 crisis. This separation between the risks athletes take and the rewards available to them is not lost to current college players. For example, the third-placed Iowa Hawkeyes will play against Minnesota on Christmas Day. "We have to distance ourselves from the public and even from our families in order to make money for our universities while we receive no compensation for our work," said Jordan Bohannon, point guard in Iowa. "It's a shame and the NCAA has not taken the lead." The Isaiah Livers of the University of Michigan made a similar point in recent public commentary. Michigan plays Nebraska at Christmas. "Not a blow to Nebraska, but on Christmas Day, I don't think anyone would want to leave their seat. That's another story we won't get into if college athletes aren't paid."
Amateurism is the foundation on which the entire exploitative business model of the NCAA is built. Sports workers on campus cannot be paid, the story goes, because they are students, not employees, and therefore are not eligible for the literally billion dollar revenue of the NCAA or organized labor representation or even health and safety protection have at work. They are not even entitled to their own name, image, or likeness. (Although this policy is likely to change and the Supreme Court will hear a compensation case for college athletes in 2021).
What would you like to have? Training at some of the most expensive facilities in the world, although many athletes are encouraged not to enroll in majors that are “too tough” or classes that interfere with all-important practice. Capel's testimony is important because it came from a coach, one of the main beneficiaries of college basketball's rigged economy. Economist David Berri has shown that college basketball coaches earn roughly four times the percentage of team revenue than their NBA coaches because of the ban on paying players. If any of the cartel's key stakeholders makes such an admission, then you know we are staring at a potential change in the dynamics of college athletics.
"Coach Capel is just saying out loud what has been true for a long time: Amateurism is a fraud," say former NBA champion and Xavier University striker David West and his partner in the Professional Collegiate League, Ricky Volante. “However, the pandemic made it impossible for the NCAA and its schools to maintain the facade: money won through rhetoric. These athletes performed all the duties of an employee without proper protection even before the pandemic, but now it's so obvious that even a well-paid beneficiary of the system like Coach Capel cannot uphold the fiction. "
In fact, based on income from the 2014-2015 season, economist Berri calculated that if players at an elite school like Duke were paid based on their share of the profits, they would earn between $ 145,000 and $ 4.13 million a year. Even at a medium-sized school like Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the top player would make $ 500,000 that year, while the median salary would be $ 82,971, well above the cost of attending of $ 33,738, the actual income of the players.
“In many ways, Capel's gesturing is what many of us pointed out during this pandemic - namely, that the farce of amateurism and 'student-athletes' as non-workers has become even more blatant as schools have prioritized profit over safety and security treated their athletes as indispensable workers and continued to benefit from their work, ”said Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history and gender and sexuality studies for women at Penn State University.
What scientists like Davis have long demonstrated in the academic setting has started to permeate more influential circles. "More votes are good," said Davis. "Comments like Capel's are rarely heard from coaches, but welcome additions to the conversation. But how much can this ultimately move the needle when so many are invested in maintaining the current system at all costs? Even if it breaks down, itself in a pandemic, even if people can hardly set up healthy teams. "
Capel's concerns are consistent with those of health professionals. Aside from the obvious risk of death - we've seen the deaths of at least one U.S. college athlete, California University soccer player Jamain Stephens, from COVID-19 complications - the greater threat facing college athletes may be complications. In a recent story published for TIME, Gavin Yamey, director of the Center for Policy Impact on Global Health at the Duke Global Health Institute stated, “Studies suggest that about 10% of infected people of all ages can develop long-term disabling symptoms that can last for many months or more. This long-term illness, known as "long-haul COVID," can cause symptoms such as tiredness, shortness of breath, tightness and chest pain, headache, muscle aches, and palpitations. "
On December 12, Florida striker Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game against the state of Florida: he was hospitalized and his grandfather told USA Today he was in a medically induced coma. Johnson is now in stable condition and even FaceTimed with his teammates on Dec. 15, his parents said in a statement released by the school. Johnson and many of his teammates in Florida tested positive for COVID-19 this summer. It remains unclear whether Johnson's condition is related to COVID.
One condition of particular concern is COVID-19-associated inflammation of the heart called myocarditis, which, according to JAMA Cardiology, appears in 15% of NCAA athletes who recover from the virus. In the past few days, University of Miami soccer player Al Blades Jr. and Vanderbilt University basketball player Demi Washington announced they had developed myocarditis and will be out for the season.
At the moment public health officials warned against vacation travel fearing another wave of COVID-19 across the country, college basketball teams did just the opposite: they board planes to do exactly what we did before all were warned. Unsurprisingly, as the nation's numbers are rising, so are the recent team-wide breakouts in the world of men's college basketball. For example, on December 17, University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said all 15 players on his team had COVID-19. Capel's comment underscores the hypocrisy involved in asking athletes on campus to risk their lives to entertain the crowds.
In fact, many current professional basketball players sympathize with the college kids. "As a professional athlete, I found it quite difficult to play overseas this year," said Natalie Achonwa of Indiana Fever. “I had to decide whether I wanted to risk my health and well-being or make a living. I don't know how or why college athletes have to make the same choice. For what? Not for your own benefit. “Another challenge for university athletes: a lack of basic occupational safety. "As professionals we have a union and we have a lot more control over what our future should look like," said Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream. "These young adults really don't."
Trainers who speak up like Capel are likely aware of the racist nature of this crisis in the United States. As Nubyjas Wilborn of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it succinctly, Capel is "a black man who trains black players who know what this virus is doing to black communities." Due to historically rooted systemic racial differences, the minorities of the black, brown, and indigenous communities in the United States have contracted the virus more often than the majority of the white population. In fact, this pandemic was seen as a form of racial violence in the United States, no less in the world of college sports.
Overall, Capel's comments signal a dramatic change, which we should welcome. However, they are not a panacea. Capel did not offer a call to action. Krzyzewski's comments did not directly take up amateurism.
"Aside from the revelation, the question is whether there is anything Coach Capel will do to change things in the future," say West and Volante. "That's the real problem with leadership in college sports: talking is easy, while action requires conviction, a moral compass, and a willingness to give up some money to do the right thing."
This is something that players like former Wisconsin Badgers star Nigel Hayes have long understood. While in college, Hayes attempted to organize a players strike during March Madness to protest the punitive fiction of amateurism in the NCAA. When we asked him about Capel's remarks, his answer cut to the bone. "He's right. Pay the players," he told us. "It's very easy."
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