[Editor’s Note: Read all of LEO’s coverage of the UofL basketball scandal, including columnist Erica Rucker’s “Students over sportsball,” and contributor Kurt X. Metzmeier’s “Notes from the other ‘university 6.'”]
Life is not good at the UofL. So bad, in fact, that it feels more like “U of Hell” than “UofL.” The place has morphed from a growing research institution with a necessary business aspect to an outright business that rarely makes decisions based on educational considerations. It does not feel like a school anymore. The educational arm seems like little more than a money laundering front for the true hidden collaborations between totalitarian, mob-like political and business figures who function in the shadows telling half-truths or outright lies.
There is great interest in this business operation (not school) recently. Wait, let me be more accurate. There is great interest in athletics, because the FBI has levied charges of fraud and bribery against U of Hell and other higher-ed businesses. To date, Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Southern California universities have been named. Miami and South Carolina universities have been fingered by description, but not by name. Most believe the list will grow.
Louisvillians are mad, but for the wrong reasons.
Their focus is on athletics when it should be on the fact that this is another blatant example of the exploitive nature of American capitalism and how race plays into it. The current situation once again makes it painfully clear that college athletics is big business, and many interests are making a lot of money. Amateur Athletic Union reps, college coaches, administrators, schools, conferences, the NCAA, apparel companies, financial advisors, agents, clothiers — Everybody! Everybody is getting paid in an industry that makes billions… except the athletes (outside of pittances given to them and their families “illegally”).
The sports world ceaselessly centers on Rick Pitino, seedy deals and risks to the precious sports teams that entertain them. It is bread and circuses anew. That conversation is heated, but within acceptable bounds. Tone and tenor change when the engagement expands to interrogating the very real practice of trafficking black bodies for profit in the “high-revenue” sports (football and basketball) dominated by black athletes. It cannot be denied that this latest scandal, once again, calls attention to a system in which white men, mostly, get rich off black boys. Like street pimps with damaged prey, they identify, cultivate, and exploit them. They ultimately divvy up these teenagers’ futures and fortunes like European colonists carving up Africa. All this is done while holding on to deceptive notions of the “student-athlete” and amateurism.
“The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA,” author Taylor Branch writes that even Walter Byers (the NCAA’s first executive director serving from 1951 to 1988), argued that concepts of the “student-athlete” and “amateurism” (which he helped create in the 1950s) are “outmoded” and athletes should be paid. Branch cites Byers as saying: “Dramatic changes are necessary to permit athletes to participate in the enormous proceeds” produced by big-time college athletics. He goes on to say that a “neo-plantation mentality” exists under the present system, where coaches and administrators act as “overseers and supervisors” who own the athlete’s body. “I believe the athletes should have the same access to the commercial marketplace that the supervisors and overseers as well as other students have,” Byers said.
Are you uncomfortable now? Are you tired of arguments about race and exploitation? Very well. Let us move on and end on a less offensive note. Again, Louisville fans are worried about athletics. If they really cared about the school, they would be worried about the viability of its accreditation, reputation and direction.
The university is also still in the middle of an accreditation controversy brought on by Gov. Matt Bevin illegally dismissing its entire Board of Trustees and appointing a board of his own, filled with lawyers and businesspeople — peppered with Southeast Christian Church loyalists who know little about how institutions of higher education function. Bevin’s unprecedented move laid the school open to suspicion of suffering from political interference (which it does!) from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), UofL’s accrediting agency. The state’s Republican legislators then retroactively changed laws to make Bevin’s actions legal. No shame. The state’s Supreme Court agrees that Bevin acted illegally, but since the law was changed — that point is moot. Only in Kentucky!
The fires of resistance (small though they were) have all but burned out, and only the embers of defeat and fear remain at U of Hell. In the end, more secrecy and madness emerge like wild flowers in spring from the dung heap of political power, community indifference, faculty cowardice, and student helplessness. In the end, maybe it’s all good. Maybe Matt Bevin and his illegal Board of Trustees will “Make UofL Great Again” as they now embark on hiring the institution’s next president in secret. Who knows? Who cares?
UofL’s interim president says SACS is tacking toward saying everything is in order and will remove it from accreditation probation. This may true. It may be false. It is difficult to know what to believe in an environment rife with lies and hidden agendas. If SACS says all is well, there will surely be celebrations. But, believe me, there is little reason to celebrate at U of Hell. •
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is chair of Pan-African Studies at UofL and host of iHeart Media’s “Ricky Jones Show with 12 Mr. FTC.” Visit him rickyljones.com