In my "Comment" this week in the New Yorker on zero tolerance policies, I mentioned, in passing, the case of Rhett Bomar. Here are a few more thoughts on his case.
Bomar is--or, rather, was--the starting quarterback for the University of Oklahoma football team. He played last year, as a freshman, and was very good--good enough that people began to think of his team as a national championship contender and Bomar as a potential pro. But this summer he was kicked off the team. His offense? He had a part-time job during last season at a car dealership in town, and he was "overpaid" for his work to the tune of several thousand dollars. Now's he gone. His NFL prospects are up in the air. And Oklahoma is no longer considered a national title contender.
Let's be clear. Oklahama, under the rules, had to do what they did. By being "overpaid" Bomar violated the NCAA's rules on amateurism. His infraction is the kind of thing that gets an entire football program put on probation. But am I wrong, or isn't this whole controversy more than a little nuts?
First, there's Oklahoma. Bomar was one of their best players. He had the ability to put them in line for a national title. Let's say, conservatively, that his presence on that team meant--in additonal regular season revenue, TV money, Bowl game revenue and athleticwear sales--many, many millions of dollars.
Then there's the car dealership. They were entirely complict in "overpaying" him. (Don't you love that word, by the way? It's so quaint! That word hasn't been used, with prejudice, in, oh, at least twenty years). And why? Because having one of the most famous football players in Oklahoma on your car lot is worth a lot of money. It would be as if David Sedaris went back to graduate school at NYU. If you were a bookstore in Greenwich Village, would you "overpay" him to work the cash register? Of course you would. And he'd be worth every penny. But if Sedaris was a football player, and not a writer, that would be illegal. Huh?
To re-cap: Oklahoma made money off Bomar. The car dealership made money off Bomar. Everyone was allowed to make money off Bomar--except, of course, Bomar.
There's a second wrinkle here. Bomar's job was off campus. He entered into a private arrangement with a private-sector employer and was renumerated accordingly. And yet the terms of that private arrangement were sufficient to get him in trouble with the NCAA. Doesn't this make you feel uncomfortable? It's one thing for the NCAA to pass rules concerning the conduct of student-athletes while they are at school. They shouldn't bet on games. They should go to class. They should meet certain entrance requirements. Fine. But isn't it a bit creepy when a organization who's jurisdiction is explictly athletic starts to tell private citizens how much they are allowed to be paid in jobs they hold on their own time, far away from the athletic field? How on earth do they get away with this?