The recent FBI probe into college basketball programs and agents paying players in violation of the NCAA’s amateurism rules has forced every hoops observer to think long and hard about whether those rules make sense, whether the status quo is sustainable and where college sports go from here.
Many high-profile names, from LeBron James to Barack Obama, have chimed in on the subject. On Tuesday, Turner Sports analyst Kenny Smith added himself to the list. In an interview with Business Insider, Smith, who will again serve as a studio analyst on this year’s March Madness television coverage, repeatedly blamed the NCAA for what he sees as a “predatorial environment” in which teenagers are exploited by grown men.
“NCAA is looking at how to do a better job enforcing their rules instead of looking at why the predatorial environment is created,” Smith said. “There’s a predatorial environment that their rules have created, which makes people feel undervalued.”
Smith harped on the reported recruiting tactics of coaches, agents, and businessmen, saying that 50-year-olds are targeting 17-year-old high-school prospects. He said if the same practices were going on in another industry, the justice system would have acted quicker.
“The rules are creating the predatorial environment,” he said, adding, “If that was anything other than sport, if it was, people would have been locked up. But because it’s sport, it took them, it’s taking longer. If it was anything other than sport, where 50-year-old men were preying on 17-year-olds — come on.”
Smith offered a pretty straightforward solution to the issue: Allow college athletes representation through a union so that the rules might better serve them, as opposed to the executives who govern them.
“It’s basically taxation without representation,” Smith said, “because they’re making rules for a 17-year-old coming in and he’s not represented there by anyone.”
Smith said players should have lawyers on their sides negotiating the rules with the NCAA to come up with a better system.
“There’s no representation. That’s why the NBA Players Association was formed, players unions were formed. That’s why those unions were formed — to have representation before you make rules for me that I have to abide by. How can I participate and how can it be fair if there’s no representation? So whatever rules, I think they said there’s 4,600 rules in the NCAA guideline book, and none of them were represented by those kids.”
It’s not entirely clear what specifically Smith views as predatory — the act of grown men chasing 17-year-olds or the act of them doing so in an unregulated black market? — but regardless, it seems sensible that representation for athletes would lead to rules that better serve their interests.
Beyond the merit of Smith’s arguments, it’s a bit surprising to see a high-profile commentator at an NCAA Tournament rightsholder sounding off on the sport so bluntly. Network executives would probably like Smith to be a cheerleader for the upcoming March Madness, and instead he’s out here criticizing the whole operation as predatory and corrupt.
Then again, you don’t hire the Inside the NBA guys without knowing they’re going to speak their minds.