In appearance after appearance – speech, interview, panel discussion – NCAA president Mark Emmert likes to fall back on an ideal of innocence in defending his organization.
He calls it the "collegiate model of athletics."
It's used as a shield against claims the players should profit off any financial windfall they create more than the traditional tuition, room and board, have professional representation or really any argument for reform.
"The whole principle of the collegiate model of athletics is these are college students who play sports," Emmert said last month at the Final Four. "If they want to be professional athletes, those options are available to them and I would encourage them to pursue them and I hope they do well at them."
It isn't that simple, and Emmert knows it. Whether he actually truly believes in the collegiate model is anyone's guess.
What we do know, with Wisconsin basketball player Jarrod Uthoff serving as the latest example, is that in practice, some coaches see Emmert's system otherwise.
These aren't college students that play sports. They are commodities to be controlled.
Uthoff is a 6-foot-8 freshman from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who is looking to transfer, mainly because he thinks the Badgers' playing style doesn't best fit his game. He came to that conclusion during a season spent practicing but not playing.
"After having a year under the system, I have a much better understanding of what the system entails and I want to find a better fit," Uthoff told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday.
He told Badgers coach Bo Ryan of his decision last week, and while Uthoff thinks that conversation should stay between them, he thought they left it well enough. "It was OK," he said.
Then he said he received word from the university that he was prohibited from transferring to any school in the Big Ten and ACC, as well as Iowa State and Marquette. That's 25 schools Ryan has deemed impermissible.
Under NCAA statutes, a school can block a player from transferring to any school it wishes and have the athlete still receive athletic aid for the first year. The player also must sit out a season. It's a terrible rule, one that even in the best of circumstances belies the "collegiate model." This is one of the worst.
"I didn't expect it," said Uthoff, who said he didn't know a school could block him when he originally signed with Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, this isn't unusual. It's common enough that high-profile cases have emerged in just the past six months at Saint Joseph's, Tulsa and Maryland. MetroSportsReport.com first reported the Uthoff story Tuesday.
Almost every transfer involves some restrictions. There shouldn't be any unless another program has tampered with a player, a determination that should be made by the NCAA, not a jilted coach.
Uthoff's 25-school ban isn't even a record. In 2009, Miami barred quarterback Robert Marve from transferring to the other 11 schools in the ACC, 12 in the SEC and four other in-state programs, a whopping 27 colleges. Marve, a Tampa native, had to go all the way to Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind.
There may be an even higher example. If not, there will be. Just give these guys time.
Wisconsin declined to make Ryan available to Yahoo! Sports. Uthoff said he has appealed the decision to school officials, although he didn't have a timeframe on a decision. In the meantime, he plans to visit Creighton on Monday.
The circumstances of Uthoff's decision to leave or Ryan's decision to ban are immaterial. This is about the hypocrisy of the NCAA and its millionaire coaches and administrators.
When it comes to dodging calls for increased compensation for athletes, for fairer treatment of breadwinners, for explanation on why this entire billion-dollar enterprise remains tax-free, they lean on that simple collegiate model – these are just college students who play sports.
When it comes to actually running the enterprise, even a kid who's never scored a point is considered a controllable entity, a professional who signed a contract (a scholarship agreement that was neither individually nor collectively bargained, of course) with a school and must adhere to the letter of it.
Non-compete agreements are common in the working world, although not among college coaches and administrators who routinely skip town at the first improved offer.
If Emmert, Ryan, et al, want to resort to the "preparing young Mr. Uthoff for going pro in something other than sports" argument and thus teach him the value of a non-compete clause, well, that's for a professional setting, where the worker gets paid.
This is supposed to be a collegiate one, hearts, flowers and kids shooting hoops after chem lab, right?
Ryan rightfully is being raked over the coals on this. It's petty. It's heavy-handed. It's a bad, bad look for himself and his program and the administrators who are allowing it. They should all be ashamed, all the way to the university president and the Big Ten and the NCAA itself.
Bo Ryan is making $2.1 million per year, a rate that should demand he figures out how to successfully operate his program in spite of a teenager changing his mind. Wisconsin basketball is not going to crumble because it might have to face off against a former player one day.
Uthoff declined to offer an opinion on the rule. He sounded like a guy trying to figure out what was going to hit next. "It'd be nice to just be able to move on where I want," he said.
That should be "nice" for everyone involved. If you truly care about the students doing well, then there should be zero restrictions placed on them if they want to leave. If this were an academic scholarship, you'd expect the department head to perhaps express disappointment but wish him well.
That's academics. This is athletics, where they love to bloviate about teaching all these life lessons, yet can't figure out how to be the bigger person, be the better person, be the adult.
This is the inherent problem with Emmert's moralizing and excuse-making. It's the inherent problem with the NCAA itself.
The hypocrisy is in the day-in, day-out actions, in the repeated proof that many of the high-profile people who make up the organization care nothing about any collegiate model or the betterment of "student-athletes" unless those student-athletes are doing something to better the adults first.
That is Mark Emmert's real collegiate model, no matter his speeches.
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