Thursday, September 15, 2011

More great NCAA-related journalism

There must be something in the water in NCAA Journalism Land, because suddenly there's a whole raft of well-reasoned and well-written treatises coming out as the 2011 season gets underway. It started with Spencer Hall from the EDSBS blog, with a great piece that I excerpted here, and now Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch has chimed in with a long-form journalism piece for The Atlantic that is exceptionally well-crafted and incredibly damning, even if it sheds little new light on the topic.

Yes, Branch's piece is essentially an example of the very journalism that Hall railed against in his EDSBS piece ("We know this. This is not news. Please stop acting like it is. That's very ingenious that in the bombed-out church of football, you have figured out that there is no God, and someone is running out the door with the coffers."), but that doesn't make it any less a brilliant piece of writing. Read the Branch piece, then go back and read the Hall piece, and consider yourself fully versed on the world of collegiate athletics. What you choose to do from there is, of course, up to you--I just think it's valuable to be well-informed.

Yes, the Branch piece is long (if you don't like Grantland, you won't like this piece), but I insist that it's worth a read. At the very least, you can read the Deadspin Cliff Notes of it, if you're feeling lazy. But know that if you skip the real thing, you're missing out on gems like this (which, incidentally, is the article's lead):
“I'm not hiding,” Sonny Vaccaro told a closed hearing at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2001. “We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes, and the best way to do that is buy your school. Or buy your coach.”
Vaccaro’s audience, the members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, bristled. These were eminent reformers—among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors. The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that takes an interest in college athletics as part of its concern with civic life, had tasked them with saving college sports from runaway commercialism as embodied by the likes of Vaccaro, who, since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984, had built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.
“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”
Vaccaro did not blink. “They shouldn’t, sir,” he replied. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”
William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory. “Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently. “I never will forget it.”
Yikes. That's one of the greatest takedowns in history, and it takes huge balls to look a group of powerful people in the eye and call them out like that. But then, it's easy to talk tough when you know you're right.

[The Atlantic]
(h/t Deadspin)

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