At first glance, NCAA membership—for Haverford, or for any college—would seem to make all the sense in the world.
After all, if there is to be an intercollegiate athletics league (and the demand certainly seems to exist for one), then such a league would ideally, in the words of the NCAA itself, “govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and [integrate] intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” And indeed under the NCAA college athletics has, for the most part, evolved along those lines—to the point where any observer would agree that Haverford athletics, and the athletic programs of countless similar institutions such as Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, by and large accomplish those stated goals. You will rarely see any of Haverford’s athletic teams participate in any competition that lacks these traits of fairness, safety, and sportsmanship—traits that agree nicely with the College’s own desired “honesty, integrity, and concern for others.”
However, there comes a point where we may ask if the results seen by this College—and countless colleges across the nation—have not come not from concentrated effort, but happy accident. Perhaps the small size and the ethos of the college itself have prevented a slide into behavior that is not only incompatible with the College’s Statement of Purpose, but immoral as well. The NCAA—an association which Haverford bears membership in—has been in the news quite a bit recently, and the subject has not been the personal gains realized by student-athletes across the country, but the exploitation of a certain class of student athletes: an exploitation that overshadows all else accomplished under the banner of the NCAA.
On August 8, Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for Northern California issued a ruling in the case of O’Bannon v. NCAA, a suit brought by former college student-athletes against the organization that claims to be acting in their best interests. These individuals were protesting the NCAA’s practice of selling nearly any imaginable product emblazoned with the images of college athletes (particularly Division I men’s basketball and football players), with no share of revenue ending up in the hands of the athletes themselves. Judge Wilken, quite reasonably, ruled the much-lauded “amateurism” requirement to be price-fixing, reasoning that if somebody wanted to play professional football or basketball in the US, they had no real option besides pursuing a spot at one of the schools in the NCAA, none of which compete with each other in compensating athletes, beyond offering scholarships. Obviously, these colleges have not been promoting open market principles within the marketplace that NCAA football and basketball have become—but the fact that they are in any way involved in a “marketplace” for college sports corrupts the notion of amateurism far beyond anything their opponents have done.
In her ruling, Judge Wilkens essentially decreed that the NCAA had been, for many years, prospering off the unpaid work of thousands of college athletes. The only remarkable thing about this ruling is that it took so long. But the formalized wording of a judge carries a great deal of sway, and perhaps now Haverford can take a look at the umbrella organization for its athletic endeavors. At a time when President Weiss has vigorously reaffirmed his commitment to Haverford’s historical ideals, espousing a Haverford that is “human, ethical, and independent,” his counterpart within the NCAA, Mark Emmert, is fighting tooth and nail to preserve the NCAA’s structure. Emmert has undertaken this fight not for the benefit of student-athletes, but for that of those who make money off the unpaid labor of professional-caliber basketball and football players.
On the surface, a break with the NCAA may seem impractical, as the money made by the association largely funds the grand national and regional championships played in by Haverford teams. However, the non-varsity sports teams at Haverford have quite an exemplary record of travelling cross-country to any events they’ve needed to participate in. Just last year, we sent a women’s ultimate team to compete for a national title in a 16-team field—a tournament which was in no way affiliated with the NCAA. I call on President Weiss to consider the college’s position within the NCAA, and to advocate for the separation of Division III schools from the NCAA, until the NCAA reprioritizes education over exploitation for all its athletes.