Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Screw the MEAC

I'm sympathetic to complaints that the Big Ten and other major conferences are trying to put the screws to mid-majors because, hey, I actually agree with that. The ur-text to the announcement about the Big Ten maybe possibly perhaps looking into providing its players with a little something for expenses was that maybe it's time for the MAC to GTFO of Division I, or at least the juicy, expensive part of Division I. Your feelings about that will probably depend upon your attachment to the Western Michigan athletic program and its ilk.

So I can at least understand the concerns about the Big Ten proposal being an iron fist of robber baron competitiveness in the velvet glove of student-athlete wellbeing, even if I disagree with them. This, on the other hand, is just nonsense:
The NCAA just hammered some schools from the SWAC and MEAC for low graduation rates, which I find ironic -- given that the NCAA shows absolutely no intelligence at all by delivering that punishment. 
Of the 58 harshest penalties handed out by the NCAA for poor APR results, half of them went to schools in those two conferences, a lopsided amount given that historically black schools account for just 7 percent of NCAA's Division I. 
This isn't a black thing or a white thing, of course. It's a money thing. And leagues like the SWAC and MEAC -- leagues without BCS football or high-major (or even mid-major) basketball -- have no money at all. 
Schools such as UConn and Tennessee and Florida and UCLA have ample money to pay for incredible academic support services for athletes -- tutors, computers, advisors. Meanwhile, student-athletes in poorer leagues like the SWAC and MEAC make do with very little of that.
Part of the Grand Bargain that schools make by having athletic programs is that they have to make at least an honest pretense of educating the players. These are schools, after all. And we understand that, by and large, the kids playing football and basketball wouldn't have gotten into the universities if not for their athletic ability, and we understand that they are likely to struggle with their schoolwork more than the average student, so we expect that these schools (that word again) will provide the necessary resources for them to succeed. That's doubly true in the low conferences; the idea that kids at Prairie View A&M will be making a living on the hardwood is optimistic to the point of lunacy.

If Hampton or Coppin State or Jackson State can't even educate its players, then what the hell are they doing? They certainly aren't competing on the field (Kenpom has the MEAC and SWAC as the worst two autobid conferences in already-bloated D-I basketball). If they don't have the resources to compete or the resources to prepare its students for their future, maybe it's time for those schools to think for a few moments about their priorities. If they "don't have money at all," then stop spending that absence of money on D-I basketball and start spending it on more important things, like your students.