- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Don’t mess with the cups.

In the Verizon Center’s bowels, stern-faced ushers sit next to unblinking signs that are as much a part of the NCAA tournament as the schmaltz of “One Shining Moment.”

ONLY NCAA CUPS ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT

Go ahead, try. Cup of coffee featuring that pesky green siren? Bottle of water? One of the five colors of sports drink on hand in the media workroom? Tankard of ale?

Step toward the court with anything other than the regulation blue and black paper cup emblazoned with logos of the NCAA and a sports drink company and the wrath of the NCAA’s beverage police falls upon the thirsty party. Dump the beverage into the correct cup and dispose of the offending carrier in a trash bin or the court is off limits.

Yes, the organization founded in 1906 after two White House conferences to address a spate of college football deaths, the high-minded group established to promote safety on playing fields, has evolved into a bloated bureaucracy fixated on eradicating the evil of displaying cups without the correct logo.

Madness? Nope. Just another March.

The cups, of course, are a symptom of the larger problem. March is played under the charade of amateurism, with enough shameless mentions of “student-athletes” to make you spit your beverage back into that NCAA-regulated cup while they further their university’s educational mission hundreds of miles from campus classrooms.

That word is important. Student. Remove it and the whole NCAA enterprise built on next-to-nothing labor, a reality-bending 430-page rule book and generous 501(c)3 nonprofit status crumbles. Yeah, nonprofit. Remember that the next time one of the NCAA’s litany of so-called corporate champions are mentioned. Sneaking the wrong brand of soda into the arena is liable to knock the world off its axis.

So, where are the student-musicians or student-mascots or student-waterboys? Oh, yeah. They’re not the product.

There’s a brand to protect, whether it’s on a cup or a tournament. That’s business for you. A lucrative one for everyone other than the men dribbling basketballs.

Look up from your blown-apart bracket. The NCAA has a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting to televise the tournament. The NCAA projects to pull in $797 million in 2012-13 alone.

What, exactly, is amateur about any of this?

Dig into the NCAA’s most recent Form 990, filed with the Internal Revenue Service last year. President Mark Emmert made the equivalent of about $1.6 million in 2010, among a sea of six-figure salaries in the organization’s Indianapolis headquarters.

A quote from Emmert is displayed prominently on the NCAA’s web site: “As long as I’m president of the NCAA, we will not pay student-athletes to play sports. Compensation for student-athletes is just something I’m adamantly opposed to.”

Think Emmert would do his job in exchange for tuition and room and board?

Earlier this week, Minnesota paid $2.5 million to buy out basketball coach Tubby Smith’s contract. The Big East Conference and the soon-to-be-former Big East Conference inked lucrative new television rights deals this month. Even Virginia Commonwealth University’s Shaka Smart, who received a new contract to stay at the school, has a $10,000 clothing allowance among 30 bonuses in his previous deal.

How about clothing for student-athletes? That bicep-curling rule book, among other gems, forbids them from receiving more than one shirt from a university for team travel or similar functions. The shirt must have a school logo with a manufacturer’s logo no larger than 2 1/4 inches.

Sacrifice another polo shirt — logo dependent on which shoe company the university is aligned with — at the altar of amateurism.

Two weeks ago, the NCAA filed a slew of declarations from conference presidents and commissioners and athletics directors in federal court. The long-running case revolves around the efforts of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and others to force the NCAA to compensate them for cashing in on their likenesses long after their careers ended.

Among the documents sat four pages of histrionics from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on the scorched earth if universities had to compensate student-athletes for the revenue they, you know, generate.

Instead, Delany asserted, even a hypothetical 50-50 split of revenue with student-athletes would put the Big Ten out of business. Force the conference to downsize the “scope, breadth and activity of their athletic programs.” Adopt the Division III model of no athletic scholarships. Focus on the student portion of student-athlete, instead of sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into new facilities and mushrooming salaries for coaches and athletics directors.

This is the same commissioner who orchestrated the smash-and-grab of the University of Maryland and Rutgers University last November that pushed the cash-machine Big Ten Network into two lucrative East Coast markets.

“The change,” Ohio State University president Gordon Gee wrote in an November email obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, “also presents a significant financial opportunity for the Big Ten.”

No matter where you look, other than the empty pockets of the men and women who play the games, money rules college athletics. Even innocent paper cups.

Just make sure you grab the right one, complete with four approved logos, before heading to the court. March depends on it.