How we watch college sports is close to changing

By Bart D.
FWAA Member
On Twitter @Bart_CFN

You know, Mark Emmert was sort of right.

(Always a good way to get a bunch of people to not read anything else an article has to offer).

Emmert took the stage (metaphorically) in the Ed O’Bannon and public perception v. the NCAA today to talk about likeness, image, money, and the ethereal value of the “student athlete.”

Most of it was what you’d expect. Emmert defended the NCAA, the sports media mocked him, social media took up the sports media’s flag, and the wedge was driven further on the issue of the student athlete and what that is worth overall.

But Emmert said one thing that struck me and that people mocked  especially … the notion that folks would tune out college sports if athletes were paid. Social media 20-something mocked accordingly.

Look, this column isn’t about what I think the right side is. It’s the winless place the NCAA is in. The media has decided they don’t like Mark Emmert … and as a person who’s interviewed him … honestly, he seems okay so maybe I’m biased … and unfortunately for Mark Emmert, when the media scarlet letters you with something, it’s only change-able by giving them what they want.

But, to be honest, Emmert had a lotta truth in what he said in that statement.

I’m not sure what the justification is to suggest that more people will tune out college sports if athletes are paid, but people WILL change HOW they watch and HOW they root.

There’s a reason we boo pro athletes but not often collegiate ones. We do it under the guise of “they get paid. If I do my job half-assed, I get fired, and I make nothing compared to them. So they can take it. The college kid? He’s just on scholarship. Give him a break.”

Scenario 1: Star player X happens to be at the same frat party you’re at Friday night. Star player X is three sheets to the wind by midnight, barely able to walk without stumbling over furniture. Star player X has a terrible game against your biggest rival and is making money for doing it. Star player X is in your anthropology lecture hall. Do you perceive star player X differently? Think he’s not getting booed or bothered by someone who knows he was tanked 16 hours before a game he helped lose?

Scenario 2: Star player Y has a commercial shoot and a big endorsement deal to cut in a week and a half after the team plays Alabama and he plays great. Star player Y and team play North Texas this week, and it really would be a shame if Star player Y got hurt and had to miss the biggest game of the year. So Star player Y’s agent suggests that in the interest of his brand, maybe it’s worth sitting this one out since the team should probably win anyway and not take an unnecessary hit that might damage his brand if he plays poorly/loses to Alabama next week. Star player Y looks long term, sits, and … the fans aren’t changing how they view Star player Y?

This isn’t about giving a ruling, but it is about acknowledging that how we watch, treat, and access student athletes will change if they get paid. Is it part of it? Yes. You pay a man $500,000 a year, you can call him to scream at him at 2 a.m. when something goes wrong. You pay him $25,000 per year, you have no right.

If you don’t think that college athletics and how athletes are treated will change, you’re myopic. Sorry, it is what it is. You have a lot of faith in your fellow sports fan.

Imagine if Lebron James had a lousy game and you knew you were going to sit next to him in your cubicle at work. Worse yet, imagine if you knew because of something you saw at a party or club that he wasn’t taking it seriously the night before. You’d change how you felt about him. It’s human nature.

The bottom line is, we love to say something is great, something is a fix, something is the answer before we find out what that answer might entail and mean.

College athletics is changing because the 10,000 pound reality that is public/media opinion, which chooses what to champion and how heavily it will be forced.

No matter who wins … in court rather than on it … things will change. And so will the fans that root for them.