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Opinion from the Sports Ethicist: pay for play in the NCAA

How to incentivize college play for college athletes

Opinion from the Sports Ethicist: pay for play in the NCAA

Should college athletes be paid? Just last week, star high school basketball player Maori Davenport was suspended from playing on her team because she cashed an $857.20 USD cheque given to her by USA Basketball. A similar case occurred in 2016 when University of Texas swimmer and Singapore native Joseph Schooling received $740,000 USD from the Singapore National Olympic Council for winning its first gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games.

This controversy around the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the non-profit body that regulates athletes and athletic programs in over 1,000 American schools and Simon Fraser University, was triggered last year. Evidence surfaced that various high-profile Adidas executives and coaches had paid men’s basketball and football recruits five-figure sums to influence their recruitment. American schools such as the University of Kansas and the University of Louisville were giving out scholarships to ineligible players, while they were also engaged in bidding wars to attract players to their schools.

These findings were followed up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In October, two Adidas employees and one agent were found guilty of wire fraud, sending shockwaves through the NCAA, with NCAA president Mark Emmert promising swift change in the world of collegiate sports.

While there are more federal trials left, as well as NCAA internal investigations, in early December, Emmert seemed to soften his initial stance when he announced that the NCAA panel overseeing the investigations will be put together in August, almost two years after the initial arrests.

So what has really changed as we enter 2019? In addition to the three arrests made, two Louisville Cardinals coaches were fired, while former Cardinals player Brian Bowen II has left to play in Australia after NCAA regulations restricted his eligibility. Nothing substantial, however, has really changed.

It seems that time and time again, athletes are being penalized for receiving any sort of pay for their athletic endeavours. A Drexel University study has shown that if college Division I basketball and football players were paid in equal proportions to their professional counterparts, the average player would be making $260,000 USD.

There are concerns regarding compensation, such as determining what the rates of compensation should be. Questions remain about whether players should receive equal pay, how to deal with discrepancies between school budgets, and how this could affect some of these athletes actually working on finishing a degree at these institutions.

While these questions have been debated for decades now, a utilitarian approach would be the most beneficial in this context.

Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy principle that dictates that the right thing to do in any situation is one that leads to the most happiness and least pain for the greatest number of people. If pay-for-play continues to be illegal, student athletes will continue to be put in an uncomfortable position — they are the ones bringing in nearly $10 billion for their schools, but they only see compensation in terms of athletic scholarships.

The current approach doesn’t maximize the gains for players, and coaching staff see none of the benefits. This gave rise to the current situation: underhanded deals between schools, athletic companies, and players that damage the reputation of college athletics. This approach has seemingly failed to provide equal opportunity in recruiting between institutions. It also promotes the current culture of athletes leaving after a year or two of post-graduate studies in order to support their financial interests.

“There’re student athletes participating in sport but they’re [receiving] scholarships to develop their academics and earn a degree, but they are clearly athletes first and students second, and many of them don’t see the benefit of that academic experience anyways,” says Simon Darnell, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

On the other hand, paying athletes seems like a fair distribution of the funds that the players bring in: it allows them to start to build their futures with a brand if they reach the professional leagues, while it also enables them to support themselves and their families. This approach, therefore, seems to bring in more benefits than the current restrictions do.

One thing that we commonly see are NBA players only spending one or two years in college due to financial issues: legalizing payment would allow players to stay in school longer, thus developing their games while also finishing their degrees. Caps on the amount of money each school is allowed to offer could potentially equalize recruiting opportunities across institutions, and strict regulations could ensure regular class attendance.

Through stricter regulation, this initiative limits the corruption that we have seen within the NCAA case, while it also seems to maximize benefits and minimize risks for all involved.

“It’s hard to imagine how [the NCAA] still justify that to themselves. There’s just so much money being made, and those who are labouring to see that money made don’t really see a cut in any significant way. There are lots of arguments to be made that their labour is being exploited,” says Darnell. “We have to give up on the idea that this is an academic enterprise and that this is a professional sport. It is a professional sport in every sense of the word except for paying the players.”

Paying student athletes isn’t a foreign concept — we’ve seen athletes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James sign professional contracts right after high school. Why should it be so different for aspiring professional athletes in college?

And the band did not play on

Musical presence at varsity games promotes school spirit

And the band did not play on

In NCAA sports, a school’s marching band plays a vital role in the overall game day atmosphere. The noise elicits excitement in the stands, and the band’s performances entice more fans to attend games. Marching bands at division one schools like Ohio State and USC put on intricate half time shows to entertain attendees; these bands bring a sense of pride and spirit to the student body.

Last September, I was hired as a promoter for U of T’s varsity sports program. I was very excited and surprised to learn that U of T actually paid students to attend games and promote the program to fans. As I thought about it more though, I realized that this suggests that U of T needs to pay students by the hour to help draw fans, since the football, hockey, and basketball teams aren’t able to draw crowds on their own.              

At the first Blues football game against the Queen’s Gaels, I was pleasantly surprised to see cheerleaders, halftime entertainment, and concessions stands: it felt like a real college football experience. The Queen’s team entered the stadium with a full marching band, which was able to perform on the field throughout the game. The band created a spirited energy in their fan section — unfortunately U of T didn’t have anything to match the musical Gaels.              

Darnell Girard, an ex-Blues football player explained, “It’s pretty evident by the attendance at our games that spirit is lacking here… by being a player you definitely see the lack of it.”

At a school of over 60,000 students spread across three campuses, it is hard to foster school spirit. But as the top university in Canada, U of T may want to look into adding an official marching band to the varsity roster.

U of T students show glimpses of school spirit during frosh week, when students cheer and represent their colleges in a huge parade down St. George Street.

It appears that school spirit is created in “smaller units as something to build off of,” explained Will Merrik, Joonyur Bnad Leedur of U of T’s the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad.  “So for us, we have the band, we have our own skule, s-k-u-l-e, spirit. We need to cultivate that and kindle it through the year and not just here, it has to continue.”

The bnad is an open and accepting student group that allows anyone to join and play an instrument, but it is technically not a ‘marching band’. Skulepedia accurately refers to it as a “meandering band.”

When asked if a marching band would add energy during game day, Girard explained, “[The crowd would] be aroused… it might actually let them know when to cheer.”

Girard went on to mention that the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad ended up having a huge impact on the atmosphere whenever they attended games. “The crowd support seemed to double, triple maybe… it’s something we could really benefit from,” he explained.

Merrik added that it “would certainly serve to bring together people from different faculties and different schools under that flag of school spirit once again.”

As U of T has invested a lot of money and resources into their varsity teams, it would be great to see the student body show more appreciation and excitement over their sports teams. A marching band will undoubtedly draw more fans to games and increase school spirit among U of T’s vast student body.

Regional CFL Combine raises draft stock of Blues

Will regional performances be enough to attract the attention of CFL scouts?

Regional CFL Combine raises draft stock of Blues

With the CFL draft approaching, it’s time to get to know the CFL Toronto Combine, which took place from March 10 to 13. The combine, broadly put, is a showcase of this year’s CFL prospects.

The participants for the national combine are chosen from three regional combines, but a high quality performance at a regional combine does not guarantee a national combine appearance.

In the 2014 regional combine, former Varsity Blue Christopher Johnson posted the fastest 40-yard dash time, highest vertical jump, and longest broad jump among linebackers. In spite of these accomplishments, he did not receive an invite to the national combine.

As important as exposure is to the draft, the national combine is not the only way CFL scouts evaluate athletes. While the combine can boost a player’s draft stock, scouts take an athlete’s entire body of work into consideration — this includes studying tapes of games, interviews with coaches and players, and regional combine results.

This year, a total of four Blues — DJ Sackey, Boris Isakov, Zack Lukings, and Farouk Musa — competed at the regional combine. Although none received invites to the national combine, this should not necessarily dissuade their draft stock.

Third-year offensive lineman Sackey will have another year with the Blues, while Isakov, Lukings, and Musa will have to hope that their current accomplishments are enough to get them invited to a CFL roster. While Sackey can be confident in his second place finish amongst lineman in the vertical leap, he looks to improve on his bench press and broad jump measurements.

Musa, who graduated in 2014, is hoping to crack a roster somewhere in the CFL after posting a 4.927 second 40-yard dash time. That time was good enough for third place at the regional combine among linebackers; the only two ahead of him were NCAA products.

Meanwhile, fellow graduate Zack Lukings posted the second fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive lineman, at 5.194.

Isakov, who transferred to the Blues in 2013 from the Queen’s Gaels, led the Blues in receiving yards in 2015. He had assumed his football playing days were over once the season ended. Then the CFL came calling. “I thought my football career was over,” said Isakov, “that’s when coach asked me to come in and told me there’s a couple of CFL teams that were interested in seeing what I could do.”

At the regional combine, Isakov posted a 4.31 second shuttle cone drill time, good for fourth among all participants at the combine. He says the environment around him helped. “Just to have friends and family and teammates and everyone there supporting… I feel like that really pushed me to have better results and a lot of drills I had personal bests because of that.”

These prospects, coming from both the CIS and the NCAA, put themselves through a gauntlet of football skill-testing drills in front of CFL scouts. With the stakes so high, the pressure can cause some to crack.

In spite of that pressure, several recent Blues have excelled at the combine. Prior to this year’s combine, former Blue Aaron Milton finished top amongst running backs in the 3-cone and short shuttle drills. Milton received a bid to the national combine that year, and he now plays for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Although there were no Blues invited to this years national combine, Christopher Johnson’s story may leave the Blues hopeful that CFL signing can still happen. The extra exposure Aaron Milton received from the national combine likely helped his draft stock. Exposure at the combine is important, however, it is far from integral. Isakov, Musa, and Lukings, may have hope that their portfolios are impressive enough to warrant a draft pick.

For Sackey, he may hope the that if he doesn’t get drafted this year, an additional year of eligibility will catch the eyes of scouts across the CFL.

CIS vs. NCAA basketball

Where is Canada’s March Madness?

CIS vs. NCAA basketball

March has arrived, and for many sports fans it’s the greatest time of the year. March Madness — one of the most prominent sporting events in North America — will kick off this week and promises match-ups between some of the best intercollegiate athletes in the world.

The tournament is comprised of Division I NCAA men’s basketball teams, who compete for the national championship. Due to the size of the men’s basketball court in the US, only certain teams are selected to participate in the competition; these teams were chosen yesterday on Selection Sunday.

Akin to CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) conferences like the OUA, NCAA conferences — like the Big East and Big Sky — compete and are eventually whittled down, until only the top two teams remain. 

The entire tournament is televised on major sports networks like TSN and Sports Centre, similar to the NBA championship — an incredible feat considering that there are no professional athletes involved. March Madness is an important time for Division I players, as some college players are recruited to play for the NBA. 

While March Madness enthralls many collegiate basketball fans, there are also plenty of talented university basketball players competing in Canada. 

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that CIS teams are garnering the skills necessary to compete with NCAA teams. Without a doubt, the NCAA features more up-and-coming superstars and polished athletes (due in part to fierce recruiting and full-ride scholarships). Nevertheless, the CIS is closer to the NCAA than most people think.   

For the past few seasons, some of the top Canadian university teams have faced off against the NCAA in pre-season exhibition games. Despite the difficulty of assessing if these matchups measure the competitiveness of Canadian teams — as they were played in the pre-season — it is still important to consider how Canadian teams have fared. 

Last summer, the Baylor Bears, a Big 12 Conference team, played Canada’s top college basketball team, the Carleton Ravens. Carleton held their ground as they went 1-1 against the NCAA powerhouse, winning their second game by six after marginally losing their first game by two points. In the summer of 2014, the Ottawa Gee-Gees also beat the Indiana Hoosiers, while Carleton beat Vermont. These CIS wins suggest that Canadian teams can play at a competitive level and hold their own against top American teams. 

A few games played in the pre-season are not enough to compare the CIS with the NCAA.

In the NBA, the Toronto Raptors have grown tremendously in the past 21 seasons. They have made their way up the Eastern Conference and are serious contenders for a championship, despite being the only Canadian team in the league.

Why hold March Madness just for American basketball teams? Clearly, CIS teams have enjoyed some success against NCAA teams. This integration would be an enormous step forward for Canadian basketball. 

In the past year, many Canadian talents such as Simi Shittu and Christian David transferred from Canadian high schools to American preparatory schools in order to increase their professional exposure. Canada Basketball must find a way to retain and nurture their own talents. One way to achieve this could be through connecting the CIS and NCAA in a tournament like March Madness featuring teams from both associations.

Basketball has been improving tremendously in Canada both in terms of popularity and talent, and we also have the fans and the support to cultivate more teams and players. It is time to put these tools to use and truly compete with the US at the collegiate level and above.

There’s no dope in team

The effects of the first four of the NCAA’s banned substance list

There’s no <em>dope</em> in <em>team</em>

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) forbids its athletes from consuming several psychoactive substances. These substances have a variety of physical and psychological effects on athletes; most of which, over the long-term, can lead to serious health complications. Here’s a quick list of some of these banned substances.   

Drug class: Stimulants 

Examples: Caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine 

What they do: Stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. They cause feelings similar to an adrenaline rush, which will make the user more energetic; this has obvious implications for athletes. Of course, there are significant differences in the potency per milligram of each stimulant: a cup of coffee is, by the milligram, definitely a more moderate pick-me-up than a line of cocaine. Nevertheless, crashes, or a sudden drain in energy, follow the high one experiences from all stimulants.

Drug class: Anabolic agents 

Example: Steroids 

What they do: Steroids, among the most well-known anabolic agents, promote muscle growth and weight gain. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), steroids are generally used to encourage speedy growth of farm animals; however, they may also be prescribed for various medical reasons, including to counteract body deterioration symptoms of individuals suffering from AIDS or other diseases. Obviously, the muscle growth effects can be and, in many cases, are abused by athletes to improve their performance. Yet, consistent use of steroids is discouraged for reasons other than being unsportsmanlike. Increased feelings of aggression, depression, and nausea, as well as reduced fertility in both men and women are but a few of many symptoms that accompany long-term use of anabolic agents. 

Drug class: Alcohol and beta blockers 

Example: Propranolol

What they do: Beta blockers are commonly used to treat ailments such as hypertension. They are also used to treat of generalized anxiety disorder. The term ‘beta’ refers to a class of brain cell receptors (adrenoreceptors) responsible for producing cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). These promote brain cell activation by inhibiting the beta receptor. Beta blockers also inhibit cAMP production, which leads to inhibiting of a given brain cell from firing. This can have a variety of effects, depending on the cell being inhibited.

Used as heart medication, beta blockers slow one’s heart rate and lower blood pressure, making them especially dangerous for athletes to consume. The effects of alcohol require no explanation. 

Drug class: Diuretics

Example: Water pills

What they do: Diuretics encourage the excretion of water and sodium from the body. They cause an increased intake of sodium to the kidneys, which, along with water, exits the body in urine. Like beta blockers, diuretics are commonly used to lower blood pressure. Athletes may also use them to hide bodily evidence of previous substance use — these drugs are often refered to as masking agents — that would normally be obtained via urine testing. Athletes may also benefit from the increased urination consequent to diuretic ingestion to lose ‘water weight’ for competitions.