Wednesday, August 17, 2011

No Honor Among Pretentious Thieves With Advanced Degrees

Nevin Shapiro was a wealthy real estate developer, or so the University of Miami chose to believe. Shapiro, for reasons related to the fact he was deeply pathetic person, gave oodles of money to the Miami athletic department. He got a plaque with his name on it outside a meeting room and a picture with Miami President Donna Shalala looking mighty pleased to make Shapiro's acquaintance.

As it turns out, Shapiro was actually a crook, a swindler running a Ponzi scheme. When the scheme collapsed as they always do thanks to arithmetic, Shapiro got caught and is currently serving a lengthy federal prison term.

As it further turns out, Shapiro, being even more deeply pathetic than can be imagined from the information in the first two paragraphs of this post, decided to cut out the middle man and start giving money directly to Miami football and basketball players, as well as treating them to Kristal nights at fancy night spots, hookers, Escalades, and yacht rides (You got tattoos! Hang your heads in shame, Ohio State Buckeyes!). Shocked to find out Miami and its jocks don't love him anymore now that's he broke and in the sneezer, Shapiro has blown the whistle on his hobby to Yahoo! Sports.

It's a megascandal among the innocents (and there are a great of them, especially among glorious guardians of good like NPR and the New York Times sports section) who think that breaking the rules in college sports is a) profoundly shocking behavior by our nation's institutions of higher learning and b) news. The fact that "scandals" such as this one have been taking place with the regularity of the tides in college football since approximately the first Rose Bowl (1902) and in college basketball since the invention of the jump shot always fails to register with the innocents. The fact that athletics is merely the most blatantly corrupt part of higher education in its relentless season for more money, different in kind but not degree from, say, the engineering school, REALLY fails to register. When you're part of a system, individuals are the only things that can fail. The system must be perfect.

As always, my reaction to another college sports disgrace is pretty much hilarity, along with a sneaking admiration for the Miami jocks for not selling themselves cheap. College football is currently engaged in a frantic free-for-all where schools are speed-dating conferences in an orgiastic pursuit of more television revenue. Why should their athletes' motivations be any different?

Beyond the low comedy and the Escalades, the Miami "scandal" reminds me that big money college sports has evolved way past simple corruption. Its morals and economics have become so nonsensical as to have moved to pure absurdity.

Consider this: Suppose Shapiro hadn't been a swindler, just an honest rich chump. If he had merely given those oodles of dough to Miami athletics, he'd still be a pillar of the community. But give money to Miami ATHLETES, and he'd be a lowlife slimeball no matter how he made his fortune. Is there really that much different between those two nouns as to make one activity philanthropy and the other an antisocial act?

I know this though. College football and basketball have some business plan. Imagine running an operation were not only do other people pay your employees, but they'll give you even more money just for the chance to do it.


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