Late on Friday afternoon — during the prime newsdump hour, a time likely chosen to prevent as many angry screeds from being written as are deserved — the NCAA ruled KU’s Silvio De Sousa ineligible for not just the last dozen-plus games of this basketball season but the entirety of the 2019-20 season. It barely needs mentioning this ban is completely insane. A guardian of De Sousa received the money, some $20,000. He was not directly paid and maintains he had no idea any money was exchanged, and the NCAA has gathered no evidence of its own to suggest otherwise. He has also already sat out more than the first half of this season. Other players, from Cam Newton to Zion Williamson, have been accused of having parents or guardians ask for or receive money and face little consequences.
Kansas coach Bill Self said in an animated statement: “In my 30-plus years of coaching college basketball, I have never witnessed such a mean-spirited and vindictive punishment against a young man who did nothing wrong,”
Here’s what I would say to Bill Self or any coach in the same situation:
Just play De Sousa.
Test the NCAA. Prove the NCAA is as worthless as everyone knows it is.
The pipe dream for many an NCAA critic has long been a player-led revolt. It would go like this: On a Monday night in April at the Final Four or Monday night in January at the College Football Playoff, a group of players would skip the biggest game of the year to protest their inability to make any more than the $50,000 scholarship and living expenses they’re allowed to be paid . According to Taylor Branch, a walkout from the Final Four was a very real possibility two decades ago for a group of players he declined to name. What about a membership-led revolt?
The NCAA exists only because a few-hundred academic institutions say it does. It is membership-made and membership-run. It could cease to exist tomorrow if enough universities went against it.
The problem, of course, is the schools like the model. They can avoid paying the thousands of dollars and perhaps millions of dollars players like De Sousa deserve by dealing behind the scenes with agents and runners, who funnel money under the table. But this covenant makes sense only as long as they don’t get caught, as long as the powerful schools avoid the NCAA’s sanctimony. Every so often the stars align (i.e. a federal investigation over young men and/or their parents and guardians being paid for labor) and Mark Emmert has to drop the hammer or risk losing the $2.4M annual salary he makes working for a nonprofit.
And when the hammer drops on them the schools and the coaches must realize this system cannot possibly continue to exist. Deep down, I’d like to think Bill Self would prefer a free-market world where a player as talented as De Sousa can get paid $20,000 or even $200,000 by a shoe company, agent, booster or even the school. No one is hurt. De Sousa would be able to get the money in the open and not sent to a guardian. The product is better for the Kansas basketball team, better for the Kansas basketball fans — and would come at little expense to the university. Only the best players, the deserving players, would get paid. Self would still get his millions; the schools would simply enlist Adidas and the boosters to pay their recruits in a more official way.
The history of the NCAA is full of these suspensions,usually for players receiving lesser benefits. Some have suspended several games for plane tickets. Others have been suspended for receiving clothes. De Sousa’s case is different in that his guardian was caught accepting $20,000. Given the amount, the NCAA had to respond with a nearly unprecedented length of punishment.
Now, then, is the perfect time for an equally unprecedented response. Play Silvio De Sousa and let the world fully see the NCAA charade for what it is.