By: Eric Thomas
The Malik McDowell story took another turn, he’s now expected to make “unofficial” visits to Ohio State and Florida State—this is, of course, after he committed to MSU on “national signing day” in front of God, the media, MSU fans, UM fans, and, I guess, the President of the United States. His crime? He crossed his mother. He’s not listening to his parents, and now this whole sad play unfolded in front of a national audience, the latest in the list of the glaring examples of why the whole college recruiting industry should be shut down and ignored.
The press conferences on high school grounds, the Twitter accounts, the coaches and parents; almost every aspect of the college recruiting machine is enough to turn your stomach. LeBron James’ “decision”—the one that the country concluded was self-serving and awful?—well, that happens on a weekly basis now. Turn on ESPNU at most hours in the day and you’ll get an 18 or 19 year old kid with a camera in his face, announcing where he’s going to take his talents.
The McDowell story hit the press last week, when McDowell’s mother put him on blast in the press, asserting that she did not want her son to attend Michigan State, even though that seemed to be his choice at the time. When “signing day” came, he chose MSU and his mother didn’t attend the press conference. Classy.
Why did this family feel the need to air their grievances in public? Why is this Russian novel worthy drama playing out in the pages of our newspapers and blogs, where the dignity of a high school senior is ignored? The McDowell’s and the media know the truth: Malik is big business. The school and his parents want to siphon off his talent for their own gain. It’s probably true for every athlete, but the situation with Malik is so stark and blatant and nakedly opportunistic that it takes your breath away. This sounds bad, and Malik’s parents have certainly gotten their share of criticism, but given the circumstances, how can you blame them?
College recruiting and all the websites and outlets that go along with them is only one of the developments the corporatization of college sports. It’s become so obvious that it barely needs mentioning, but recruiting is an industry now—along with TV shows, several websites, blogs, hundreds of Twitter accounts, a magazine and an obsession with high school students so creepy it should arouse the suspicion of the police. It’s gotten completely out of control, and it’s barely accurate. A handful of former five star recruits never played a down of major college football because they couldn’t make eligibility requirements. Since 2002, two former five stars are in prison.
It also exposes the universities as the big business they are. College sports are huge in this country and football is by far the biggest. Universities are big businesses, that’s all they are anymore, the halide glow that’s always accompanied academia has faded under the avalanche of money. The University of Michigan made news last year when they cut back administration staff while giving President Mary Sue Coleman a $100,000 bonus “in lieu of a raise.” 16 people at UM earned $7.49 million last year in BASE PAY*, and they’re not alone. 42 presidents of private colleges make more than a million a year, and the median pay for public college presidents is $441,392. This while universities and colleges around the country have hired less full time professors and push more classes off on “part-time” adjuncts who often make less than $25,000 annually and don’t typically have health insurance.
Of course college is big business. They own the greatest marketing pitch ever implemented. Even the President of the United States will tell you that you absolutely, positively need to get a college education or you’re guaranteed to die alone in the gutter with no prospects. You have no choice but to go get that major in Philosophy of Sports Management and minor in the History of Creative Commercial Graphic Design in Journalism. It’s a big, lucrative business and colleges make a pile of money, all of which makes their tax-free status increasingly hard to justify. For all the caterwauling about the evils of corporate America, there is never any mention of the NCAA, who enjoys tax-free status while people in the upper echelon of the administration line their pockets with cash.
Malik McDowell and his family are caught in the middle. There have been many on the internet who’ve wondered aloud if Malik’s mother is looking for more money from one school or another. If that’s the case, can you blame her? Is Mark Dantonio or Pat Narduzzi donating their time?
This family comes out pretty bad in this story. We should have never been subjected to this much public laundry, and the media is partly to blame for that, but this is just a symptom of the disease. A recent report in the Atlantic reported that it would cost LESS for the government to pay for every American to go to college than it pays just to make college MORE AFFORDABLE.
The NCAA is only going to become more corrupt. Recruiting and the obsession around it is only going to become more prevalent. Is there a solution? Let’s hope that the student athletes forming a union will make some changes, because there’s no way that college football is going to get any less popular.
*Because EVERYTHING has to be a comparison of the two schools, MSU doesn’t seem to have the same bloated numbers—or at least I couldn’t find them. The MSU salary figures are found here: http://msu.edu/state-transparency-reporting/assets/documents/Sec245FY13EmpList.pdf Lou Anna Simon appears to donate her bonuses back to the school and refuse raises. If you want to blame my relative lack of education for my inability to find those numbers, fine. Pat Narduzzi, Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo are doing really well. MSU absolutely makes a ton of money from its athletics department, which is the point of the blog.