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Talking Turkey About College Basketball


On most Thanksgiving days in years’ past, and, for days thereafter, I would be behind one of the baskets in Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena at the Great Alaska Shootout. ESPN would televise some of these games, but, for the Alaskan fan, far removed by geography and pocketbook, the chance to watch the top teams (even with some obstruction) make eye contact with one another and perform in your lap was as exquisite an experience as watching a string quartet at close quarters. Then, I would skip the regular season, and watch some of these brilliant players I had observed closely at work during March Madness. I rooted for the teams at the bottom.

But now the Big Teams are not in Anchorage or in Fairbanks (where team demands of  $100,000 upfront ended the rival,  Midnight Sun event) and neither am I. Unknown schools like  Hampton University (formerly, Hampton Institute, a school founded to educate Indians and, then, former Virginia slaves), came north this Thanksgiving and played in the Shoot Out instead of Maryland, Georgetown, and all the other great ones. I grew up in Hampton and used the Hampton Institute’s integrated library with better books and no “colored” water fountains. I hope the players stayed warm.

I still love basketball the way the Mayan loved their ball games and the Romans loved their fights between men, women and animals. What they all have in common right up to the  game on ESPN you and I  just watched is the use of performing slaves. Millions of dollars  flow through the coffers of Big Time Sports and how much trickles down to the players on TV? Bupkes- now spelled correctly,( not, as in “ Dick”). Oh yes, college educations for free, but how many performers graduate or are, even, were intended to graduate?  Even back then, the “college kids” who played big time ball didn’t look like me. Some were older. All were bigger and many were darker. Most were poorer with poorer people at home than my folks, who were not rich. All hoped for a future beyond the unpaid farm team, called a University,  they now sustained. I was studying for my future while they practiced and performed for University as unpaid employees/

Sports stats are so dear to so many. So why can’t someone break down the revenue flow of a college team on television to figure out how some of that profit could end up in a deferred income account to let a college amateur take a profit at the end of his young run? Why not? Because it’s in nobody’s interest but the poor shlubs at the bottom of the food chain.

These are big-time schools with big time academics. The profs are smart,  write books,  have tenure and, even, miserably paid teaching assistants. Adjunct professors fill in the gaps for the glory of an institutional affiliation and for the love of teaching and let real profs do deep thinking. The administrators make crazy money and suck up to the trustees,  the legislators,  the rich alumni or whoever else hoses them down. How long can the NCAA and their members  play the game of setting up the rest of us,  including the struggling student body and the teaching assistants against the jocks to allow these national plantations to exploit the players on our television sets? Right now those players get the same pay as Sarah Palin’s turkey for more work. They get to strut and gobble for your viewing pleasure.

Maybe players should align themselves with turkeys and get support from PETA. Palin’s turkey-murder tape induced national moral outrage. How about a national union of  televised college athletes? Or competition among the leagues or schools to treat college players fairly with some level of profit-sharing? How about it, Colgate, Columbia and UCLA  (my schools)? How about it, University of Alaska Seawolves (my former workplace)?

College ballplayers on Thanksgiving Day are slaves in front of your eyes, not chain gangs or leased-out workers in some underground Alabama coal mine nobody told you about until lately. When do they get a cut, a fair share, a piece of the money pie?

Now,  have another slice of leftover Palin-or-Obama-style  turkey and think about it.

STEVE CONN lived in Alaska from 1972 until 2007. He is a retired professor, University of Alaska. His e mail is






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