When Nevin Shapiro, the now incarcerated University of Miami booster, revealed that 72 current and former Hurricane athletes had taken improper benefits, the name calling began. Shapiro was a rat, the players were criminals (without actually committing a crime), and the University of Miami was an academic institution that had lost control.
Shapiro had done everything from throwing parties in his South Beach mansions and million-dollar yachts to getting VIP access into nightclubs and bribing players for play. These alleged infractions rattled the cages of college sports media and fans alike. This was the type of thing the NCAA stood directly in opposition to, as money being given to athletes is a crime against the morals of amateur athletics.
Wait, what is the crime? Young men enjoying free trips to South Beach?
I’m not breaking any ground here by refuting the logic or ethics of the various regulations put in place by the NCAA (read Taylor Branch’s piece, “The Shame of College Sports” in The Atlantic – all 13,000 words of it). So, why do we care? For the past decade or so, UM athletes knew a guy who wanted to spend plenty of time and money on them. Sure, it was against the rules but were their actions immoral? Apparently, it didn’t translate to any sort of advantage on the field. So, who cares?
Too much is made of amateur players receiving funding in college sports– Something that at this point in time, given the amount of revenue flowing through the hands of the universities and coaches, missing the hands of the players, is nothing to cry about. If you want amateur, then go play pick-up basketball with your buddies. This is primetime sports and you’re a fool if you think those directly responsible are not going to try to get what is theirs.
Before I go on, let me be clear: I’m in no way defending Nevin Shapiro. A Napoleon complex does not begin to describe Shapiro. Instead of conquering Europe, Shapiro decided to set his sights on South Florida, with its vice and grandiosity seemingly his for the taking. He did not want to be “Lil Luke.” Instead, he wanted to make Luther Campbell an afterthought.
But Nevin Shapiro, the booster who gave money to the athletics program and the players which comprised it, I’ve got no beef with him. This is free market capitalism at its finest, the purest form of supply and demand. Shapiro had plenty of money and wanted attention from famous or soon-to-be-famous athletes. They set their price.
Go to the bookstore and buy the first football jersey on display. Does it have a number 12 on it? Do you think that is random? Definitely not. Just like every other college athletics program in the country, UM is capitalizing off of the image of athletes unable to do so themselves.
Let’s take sports out of this for a second. If there was an electrical engineering student making money on the weekends by fixing car stereo systems and building amplifiers for customers, should he lose his scholarship because he profited off of the skills that got him into college in the first place? What about the English majors tutoring high school kids, are they void of a moral compass?
The truth is, the only reason fans care about amateurism in college sports is because we think money would corrupt it. In essence, this is true. Adding dollars into the mix would forever change how college sports works for the athletes – not the universities. They’ve had a pretty good time mixing money and sports together, if the SEC’s billion-dollar television contract is any sort of indicator.
While Nevin Shapiro is an unsightly character, let’s not make him the root of all evil because he’s not. Shapiro is a byproduct of a system that looks to keep profit away from those directly involved in the product.
If we want to start calling people names, let’s start with this one for college athletics as a whole: sham.