This week Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s 3rd string quarterback tweeted that college classes were “pointless”, a predictable national sports media chorus ensued, and 5000+ ESPN commenters descended on Jones with condemnation, mockery, bigotry, and countless tutorials on the finer points twitter grammar. Somewhere in between the malarkey and the bluster, Huff Post Live and Marc Lamont Hill produced one of the best panels that I have ever seen on NCAA College Athletics.

Without the usual well-paid NCAA shills and compromised coaches on this panel, the usual debate cross-firings was replaced with some real talk. Led by former NBA Athlete and author Etan Thomas and four university professors, this panel’s commitment to the role of education was impeccable and unquestionable. But instead of distracting the audience with too-easy shots on Jones, they attacked the root of the problem.

But first, here is Cardale Jones tweet:

“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS”

Oh, the horror.

Dave Zirin rightfully wrote that it was The Smartest or Dumbest Tweet an Athlete Has Ever Sent.

To clear up the confusion, Etan Thomas, author of new book on Fatherhood and “More Than an Athlete” quickly gave some context by dispelling the myth of “The Student Athlete”:

“You’re not really a student athlete. You’re an athlete-student. That’s your main goal. That’s your objective. That’s what you’re there for. In the NCAA everyone’s getting paid except for the athlete. It’s a perfect business where you don’t have to pay your workers…

Thomas offered a concrete example of the NCAA’s educational priorities: his wife:

“My wife played basketball. She played for the women’s team. And during her time there towards her senior year she tore her ACL. …And the doctor said ‘you really shouldn’t play anymore.’ And the minute that happened during her senior year they wanted to take her scholarship away. Because after all, if you can’t play anymore what good are you to them. If… they really were concerned about graduating and academics, that wouldn’t be an option. She had to actually hire a lawyer…

They don’t care. It’s a business.

Dr. David J. Leonard from Washington State University explained how the priorities of Jones closely reflected the NCAA’s:

“There’s big money in yet another institution that does not trickle down… The message is clear from top to bottom why student athletes are on campus and the answer is not education…

That’s the message that is sent each and every day when these athletes-students go and meet with their advisors… [Former NFL All-pro] Robert Smith talks about when he was at Ohio State and wanted to be pre-med and coaches and others would come in and say: ‘Put that book down. Stop studying. That’s not what you’re here for.’ These are the daily messages. And then we get a story like [Cardale Jones] where people jump on and say this young man doesn’t want to be in school…

THE SYSTEM is what’s the problem.”

This system was called “corrupt” by Thomas and “un-American” by Syracuse Professor Dr. Boyce Watkins:

“It’s incredibly un-American to have an industry make as much money as the NFL and NBA [and] not paying its workers. And then you also have that racial inequality issue with the black community literally has $1 billion a year extracted from it because we have these athletes coming out of poverty who could be helping their families but instead they’re making their coaches rich. And I think that’s incredibly problematic…

So I think we need to ask ourselves, why did we ever decide that it should be illegal and unethical for an American to be paid for their labor?”

Host Marc Lamont Hill asked if change was possible. No panelist had faith that the NCAA could reform itself. Said Thomas:

“I think the system is working the way they designed it to work. It’s not going to come from the NCAA. They’re happy with it working the way that its working. They’re making all the money. They’re making millions and billions of dollars from TV revenues on down. They’re not going to change the system. It’s working for them. It’s a perfect business from their standpoint.”

Dr. Jason Lanter, President of The Drake Group, added: “Make no mistake. Change will not come from within. The NCAA has no reason to make change from within.”

After discussing the case with legal experts, Watkins believes that change is possible, but must ultimately come possible through legal victories and outside regulation:

“They would not allow Walmart and Target and Kmart and target to collude and form massive organization that controls labor rights and prices of products on the market. They wouldn’t allow that. So why is the NCAA allowed to do things that would be illegal in virtually every other industry in America?…

“If you treat them like professionals, pay them like professionals. If you pay them like amateurs, let them be amateurs. That’s my fundamental argument.”

Are Dr. Watkins and the panelists suggesting that we spend more time and space addressing a multi-billion dollar empire instead of a 3rd string quarterback?

Now that’s a real panel. Check out the whole broadcast here:

 

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