Another March Madness, another collegiate scandal.
A year after a cloud loomed over college basketball’s most celebrated month, the tension in the air is still thick as Arizona and LSU’s head coaches, Sean Miller and Will Wade, days seem to be numbered, as their names are connected to the FBI’s corruption scandal that rocked the sport last season.
However, the college entrance scandal that the feds dropped on us earlier this week was a little different, and while it involves sports to a certain degree, it’s really about all the other things that are at the core of the collegiate system as a whole: money and race.
The reaction to “Operation Varsity Blues,” the federal racketeering bribery case that discovered that rich people were paying to get their under-performing kids into elite universities, depends on who you are in America.
For some, it was shocking and eye-opening.
For others, it was like watching an open secret finally getting said aloud.
“If you’re black and you are being considered for admission to an elite university and you’re a student-athlete, you have to be exceptional,” Shaun Harper, a professor and executive director of the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, told the Daily News.
“These men who play on these revenue-generating sports teams (football and basketball) for no compensation, are athletically extraordinary, and it’s a real slap in the face to them and the hard work that they put in athletically.”
But even if we take away the athletic and racial component to what has been revealed the past few days, there is an onus on our society, and the media, to pay attention and cover this in the same way, with maybe even more intensity, that the FBI’s ongoing college basketball scandal has been followed.
This situation includes three components that attack the fundamental way colleges and universities decided on admissions, according to one economic litigator that focuses on sports economics. Those components are: parents getting their kids designated as athletes, labeled as learning disabled, and deemed as bad test takers, when they are really none of the above.
“This isn’t a sports scandal per se. This is a wealth scandal,” said Andy Schwarz, a partner at the OSKR firm, to the Daily News.
“This is the rich abusing the system and buying influence. And when we think about sports scandals we think about a corrupt system that doesn’t let athletes earn what they’re worth and schools being denied the ability of having above-the-table transactions, so they have below-the-table transactions.”
As funny as the memes have been on social media poking fun at how Aunt Becky from “Full House” could be involved in something like this, the fact is that this isn’t a laughing matter.
We now know that a student’s intellect isn’t the deciding factor. Their parent’s checkbook is.
“Literally, the guy from the FBI got up there during the press conference and he’s trying to explain why this is really bad for rich people to buy access to schools, and he says, “Now, we’re not talking about paying $50 million to build a building,” said Schwarz.
“Why is it OK to pay $50 million and the school gets a building out of it and it’s perfectly fine to bump somebody else out for this rich kid, but if it’s only $500,000 it’s not? It’s because we want to reserve wealth privilege for the .001% because the 1% isn’t good enough anymore.”
We’ve always known that money can buy anything. But the race of the people that possess that money also plays a huge factor in this, as Harper feels that this is a four-part example of how whiteness is protected.
“More than 80% of college admissions officers are white, and it’s even whiter at the director level,” he explained. “88% of head coaches across all the NCAA sports in all three divisions are white. Although we haven’t seen a comprehensive list of all the families involved in this scam, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the overwhelming majority of those people are white, given the way that wealth is disproportionately distributed. It shows the sense of white entitlement to elite universities.”
The college basketball scandal has been all about coaches using shoe companies to pay recruits money they rightly deserve, since everybody else is getting paid but them, under the table for their services.
In the end, there are kids on both sides who are getting screwed. Whether that be Brian Bowen because his father accepted $100,000 for his son’s services to play basketball at Louisville, or because Lori Loughlin paid $500,000 to have her daughters listed as crew team recruits to get into USC.
The only question now is, will any change come from this?
In college basketball, maybe.
“Yes,” said Schwarz. “There has been this recognition that the shoe companies desperately want to pay athletes to wear their shoes, and it’s going to keep happening no matter what they do. So they now have to find a way to bring this thing (NCAA student-athlete compensation) above board.”
But in college admissions, I don’t see it happening.
“No,” replied Harper. “Because white privilege and wealth will always find a way.”
No matter how you feel about either subject, one thing has become crystal clear over the last 12 months.