SPORTS

  /  

March 4, 2005

Multi-billionaire NCAA profits off Gomes, school loyalty myth

For college basketball fans, there's a treasure trove of story lines in the Big East. Boston College is putting on the ultimate farewell tour, Georgetown and Villanova have returned to glory, the last two national champions are revving up for another run, and Pittsburgh simply refuses to die quietly.

Oh, yeah. There's also that thing about someone stealing $2.5 billion from Ryan Gomes.

Reach back to your deep memories. Forward from Providence College, first-team All-American, averaged 18.9 points and 9.4 rebounds a game last year? Player of the Year candidate on a Final Four dark horse? Came back for his senior year despite being projected as a late first-round draft pick last June?

How quickly we forget. Through no fault of Gomes (21.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 49.7 percent shooting from the floor), Providence has gone from Cinderella story to cautionary tale. The Friars are 13-16, including a dismal 3-12 mark in conference games. In games decided by five points or less, the team is a pathetic 1-9, dropping a 75-71 decision to 13th-ranked Syracuse, losing 78-75 against 5th-ranked B.C., and letting 15th-ranked UConn get away 94-89.

Gomes's stock has fallen with his team. It's hard to be Player of the Year when you can't get your teammates past Winthrop or Rutgers. New projections have Gomes going as late as the 60th pick in this year's draft. While I doubt he will slip quite that far, he's still going to take a bit of a financial hit. The 20th pick in the NBA draft can reasonably expect to earn $3 million in his first three years in the league. The 35th pick is looking at one year, non-guaranteed, for the rookie minimum of $375,277. Not exactly a small difference.

Where's the outrage? Gomes did what the fans want all NCAA hoopsters to do. He fulfilled his commitments and stayed all four years. In all likelihood, it's going to cost him big time. Where are the preachy articles in sports magazines, the pundits shaking their heads on ESPN, the obnoxious talk-radio callers shouting about how Gomes shouldn't be punished for being true to the Black and White? Shouldn't someone have gotten a telethon going by now?

It's time for sports fans to wake up. For all the talk of how much damage early entry to the NBA is doing to the college game, very few people seem to recognize just how great a financial investment these players are for colleges. According to the Providence College Cowl, in recent years the athletic department at P.C has posted as much as $4.3 million in revenue, and at a school without a football team, it's easy to guess where that profit margin came from. That's over four percent of the total revenue for the school in fiscal year 2001-2002.

What's Ryan Gomes's share of that? Beyond whatever he earned as the biggest drawing point in the college's only revenue sport, it's about $6,500. How did I reach that number? That's how short, on average, full-ride athletic scholarships fall of meeting the total costs of a year of university education. You want to stop the corrupting influence of booster payments on college sports? Get behind proposals to pay student-athletes enough to make up the difference.

The entire concept of the student-athlete is seriously flawed. I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone to learn that between practices and road trips, big-ticket athletes are usually a little too busy to get an actual education. All well and good if you end up in the pros. But what about the vast majority of Div. I players who just aren't good enough? There's really only so much you can do with a degree in Big XII football, even if you do manage to graduate.

Simply put, for all the complaints about player disloyalty to the programs that gave them the chance to make the pros, to what are we actually asking them to be loyal? The players may be using their colleges, but the colleges are using their players right back. Fans need to be much more aware of what they're saying when they criticize a freshman phenom for giving up on the UCLA tradition to sit on the bench in Milwaukee. What we're actually asking these players to do is put their dreams and most marketable skills aside to risk injury or someone spotting a hole in their game, all so that the NCAA can make an extra buck or two.

Gomes is a big boy, and he had to know when he came back that this was a risk. Beyond that, while some had the small forward going as high as 18th, the possibility also existed that he would slip to the mid-30s. Gomes is playing at the Dunkin' Donuts Center this winter because he wanted to improve his stock, and in all likelihood for no other reason. It's simply bad luck that his plan backfired. Pro basketball players have short careers, and they need to capitalize on any opportunity to get set for life that they can. The school has made a substantial amount of profit off of their investment in Gomes. No misguided notion of loyalty should deny him the same chance.

If rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel, then rooting for a basketball star to play out his college eligibility despite NBA prospects is like rooting for coal miners not to unionize.