We get a lot of e-mails to the sports department from authors or their press agents peddling sports-themed books. A disproportionate share of those books are about the NCAA. You can probably guess whether they’re for or against.

The interesting thing about these books and the press releases announcing them is the provocative rhetoric. Comparing college athletes to slaves is one of the authors’ favorite hooks. This week, we got an e-mail from a professor at Syracuse University, of all places, calling March Madness “an exploitative, racist lie.” I’m guessing he and Jim Boeheim go way back and meet in the campus center coffee shop on Sunday mornings.

We’re trying to sell newspapers instead of books, but columnists such as yours truly are also guilty of using the elevated pulpit that the NCAA’s signature event provides to rail against the NCAA.

We point out the rampant hypocrisy. We opine about studies that found the teams in the Final Four barely graduated four players among them last year. We write wistful remembrances of John Wooden and the days when college sports were supposedly pure and unsullied by corrupt coaches and boosters on one side and an inflexible monolith on the other. Then we file our column and check our brackets while retweeting Jay Bilas.

The NCAA is understandably undaunted by the criticism. If anything, it mocks the fourth estate because it knows we need it much more than it needs us. Just this week, a reporter covering the basketball tournament tweeted that the NCAA warned her not to use her own water bottle on press row, presumably because it didn’t bear the NCAA logo.

It would be funny in its absurdity if not for the fact that it’s only a taste of what athletes have to deal with every day. The most recent example came after San Diego State’s first-round (sorry, “second-round”) tournament win over New Mexico State late Thursday night. Aztecs coach Steve Fisher lambasted the NCAA for deciding to send the losing team home on a red eye flight immediately after the conclusion of their late-night game. Fisher said San Diego State had already been promised it would spend another night in Spokane.

“I shouldn’t have to call the NCAA,” Fisher said, “and I did today, to say, “Why? … So we can say we want to do all these things for be benefit of the student athletes, but you play a game like we did tonight, you get to the airport at 1 in the morning?”

I couldn’t help but think about Fisher’s comments sitting on press row at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Friday night for the NCAA Division III hockey semifinals.

Actually, they didn’t occur to me until about a half-hour before the first game, when the fans filing into the Colisee were treated to a video montage of NCAA athletes in championship action.

The video had all the ingredients of NCAA self-importance — overly-dramatic symphonic soundtrack, quick cuts of athletes basking in their triumph interspersed with almost subliminal reminders that it is the NCAA that brings such joy to their lives and ours.

For the cost of producing that two-minute video, the NCAA could have put New Mexico State up at the Spokane Ritz Carlton for a night and chartered a flight home. Of course, it has the resources to produce the same video and one like it for every one of the thousands of student-athlete it claims to support and still send New Mexico State and all 67 teams that lose in the tournament on a consolation trip to Disney World.

We all know the NCAA has no interest in sharing the wealth with those who create it, which opens the door to tortured slavery analogies. But as deluded as that thinking is, it’s just as crazy to think a “free” crack at a degree is fair exchange.

It may be impossible to hit the NCAA where it hurts the most, in the wallet. But thankfully, someone other than the writers is trying to hit the NCAA where it’s most vulnerable.

Numerous lawsuits have been brought against the NCAA. Most have either been thrown out or settled out of court. Little has changed so far, but the lawsuits keep coming. One filed recently alleges antitrust law violations by the NCAA and the power conferences. Some think it could be the litigation to finally destroy the NCAA.

If it succeeds, who knows how it will change college athletics? But you can be sure of one thing, writers will take entirely too much of the credit.


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