In the wake of recent of recent reports of misdoings within the basketball programs at Syracuse and UCLA, outspoken NCAA critic Tommy Craggs of Deadspin yesterday brought his fastball in going after the usual object of his employer’s affection, the mainstream media. In this case, Craggs threw a little chin music at Yahoo! Sports and Sports Illustrated, portraying the outlets as slave catchers who profit by helping enforce the Association’s illegitimate rules.
The money shot:
“Exposés like Yahoo’s and SI’s go a ways toward explaining how the NCAA, with its rickety legal and moral framework, has lived on for so long when by any measure it should have been picked clean by tort lawyers ages ago. The NCAA sprouts rule after rule to disguise the fact that the entire organization is just a baroque workers’-comp-avoidance mechanism. And yet the association is covered by a lot of people who, by temperament and by professional custom, believe it’s their job to report on the violation of those rules but never on their essential logic or legitimacy. The NCAA and its member schools get pettier and pettier with their athletes, and the media get pettier and pettier in sympathetic response.”
That’s the eloquence equivalent of Randy Johnson smoking a fastball over John Kruk’s head.
I once heard investigative journalist Duff Wilson, now with Reuters and formerly of The New York Times, describe the objective of his profession as – and I’m paraphrasing – holding institutions accountable to their purpose. Craggs’ takedown reminded me of Wilson’s words.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo! has justifiably earned the unofficial nickname of “College Football’s Angel of Death” for his role in shining a light NCAA scandals at powerhouse programs such as USC, Ohio State, Oregon and Miami. However, much like the “exposés” published in the last year by George Dohrmann of SI detailing scandals within the Ohio St. football and UCLA basketball programs, I’m finding that, more and more often, these articles seriously fail to deliver on the outrage.
I just can’t work myself up into a frenzy over kids getting blazed or trading a jock strap for some new ink. On the scale of giving-a-shitness, it barely registers. In fact, I’m reminded every time of just how ridiculous the entire NCAA regime truly is.
But does that mean that the work of investigative reporters like Robinson has no value? Do they simply serve to perpetuate the farce of amateurism in major college sports?
Improper benefits, drugs and the like swim around and multiply in a petri dish of NCAA offenses for even semi-competent reporters to use as fodder for tell-alls and pageviews. It’s a wealth of material. That absolutely gives the media a stake in seeing the NCAA keep on keeping on, so Craggs’ intimation that journalists have a reason to cast a less-than-critical eye on the NCAA rulebook definitely has merit.
Likewise, the conventions of traditional journalism don’t exactly encourage reporters to question the legitimacy of policy and rules. They’re taught to reveal corruption, not define what should be considered corrupt.
Yet, implicit in Craggs’ criticism is the idea that he and I are, in fact, right about the true purpose of the NCAA. He takes it as a given that journalists like Robinson have a responsibility to convince his readers as such.
But why do we need Robinson to convince us of anything?
Whether or not the allegation that Syracuse covered up basketball players’ failed drug tests sets you off, you can’t dispute that if true, it violates Wilson’s “sense of purpose” test. The same goes for Jim Tressel misleading OSU and the NCAA regarding Tattoo-gate.
The fact of the matter is that these are allegations that schools are blatantly pissing on the rules they have endorsed under the auspices of protecting the sanctity of college sports. The infractions in and of themselves may not bother you. It may irk you that all this trifling passes for scandal in the world of the NCAA. But those are conclusions we should all be allowed to reach on our own by evaluating the end product of investigative journalism.
It may not fit with Deadspin’s vision of “sports news without access, favor or discretion,” but the public benefits from journalists like Robinson and Dohrmann revealing obvious abuses of NCAA rules. What happens after they pull the curtain back should be on us.