More March Madness: The Persecution of Jamar Samuels

This past weekend saw the sharpest possible demonstration of what makes the NCAA basketball tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, so thrilling as a sports spectacle and so repellent as a business. We witnessed two number-fifteen seeds win in the opening round, the first time that’s happened in tournament history. Lehigh vanquished the much-loathed Duke Blue Devils and an unknown Norfolk State squad beat a team with Final Four expectations, the Missouri Tigers. That was awesome. Then came ugly, otherwise known as the case of Kansas State center Jamar Samuels. Samuels, the team’s second leading scorer and a senior, was declared ineligible and summarily humiliated by the NCAA just twenty minutes before the Wildcats’ second-round game against Syracuse. What was Samuels’s crime? He’s accused of taking $200 from his Amateur Athletic Union coach, Curtis Malone. Samuels had to miss his last game as a collegian and watch his dispirited team lose to the top ranked Orange, 75-59. After the game, just being asked about Samuels, caused his coach Frank Martin, to grit his teeth with anger and grief.

I’m not sure which part of this to be enraged by first. Let us count the ways.

1. How do NCAA players, old enough to vote and fight in wars, not even have the benefit of due process? Samuels was accused, no more no less. He had no rights to appeal or defend his name. His team had to figure out a new game plan with twenty minutes to spare, while administrators furiously tried to lobby officials to change their mind. The NCAA’s absolute authority as judge, jury and executioner, is a recipe for abuse.

2. Jamar Samuels’s suspension led to the following headline that simply says it all: “Jamar Samuels Ruled Ineligible For Trying To Feed His Family.” His former coach, Curtis Malone, admitted after the suspension that he had given him $200 so Samuels could buy groceries for his mother. “Yeah, I did,” he said. “It’s the same way when he played [for me] on road trips. When he didn’t have money to eat, he ate.” He later told, that he didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong. “If I knew it and wanted to hide it, I would have done it differently. The kid’s family doesn’t have anything and he called me for money to eat.” Neither Malone nor Samuels thought they were doing anything wrong. Malone had known Samuels’s mother for years and they live in a situation where poverty literally means not knowing how you will find food for the week.

3. Let’s say Samuels did take the $200. Let’s say he walked on the court with two Ben Franklin’s pinned to his shirt. My only problem with that would be that it wasn’t more money and didn’t come from the NCAA instead of Curtis Malone. This March Madness tournament brings in $10.8 billion in television funds alone, comprising 90 percent of the NCAA’s operating budget and underwriting the lavish salaries of everyone we don’t pay to watch. NCAA President Mark Emmert won’t disclose his salary as leader of his “nonprofit” but it’s thought to be in excess of $2 million a year. He has fourteen vice presidents, each of whom make at least $400,000 annually. They are paid to make sure Jamar Samuels and friends don’t get a dime. What proud work.

4. Jamar wears Nikes and the swoosh adorns his shoes and uniform. This is not personal brand preference. Nike is in the last year of a six-year, $12.3 million contract with Kansas State. Jamar has spent the last four years as a running, jumping human billboard for the global sporting apparel giant, with not a dime for his troubles. His coach, Frank Martin, with nary a swoosh on his body that we can see (I can’t speak for hidden tattoos or brands) makes $1.5 million a year.

5. It’s striking that Emmert didn’t issue any kind of a statement last week when Samuels’s teammate Angel Rodriguez endured the racist invective of the Southern Mississippi band, who chanted “Where’s your green card?” at the freshman guard. Why is that? My working theory is that there is no financial incentive for sticking up for Mr. Rodriguez, just a moral one. In contrast, regulating the financial life of their players, particularly whether or not their pockets possess more than lint, is the NCAA’s reason for being.

All players don’t suffer this level of scrutiny, however. Credit to DC sports host Ivan Carter for pointing out on Twitter that football and hoops are the only sports where you can’t go pro right out of high school. Play college hockey, you can have an agent and even be called up to the pros. Play college golf or tennis, and you can be a part of the most lucrative grand slam events on earth. There is no equal protection under NCAA law. It doesn’t take Clarence Darrow to explain why. Basketball and football is about poor kids who generate billions, divided by coaches, colleges and the NCAA. It’s their orgy and players are expected to act the role of eunuchs, seen, not heard and definitely not paid. The NCAA’s arrogance is stunning. They are banking on us being oblivious to the fact that they destroyed a team as well as possibly the prospects of Jamar Samuels just to flex their “moral authority” over an utterly amoral system. Former LSU coach, Dale Brown, was absolutely correct when he said that the NCAA does little more in the end, than "legislate against human dignity." This is why it has to go.

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I couldn't agree more David.


The NFL and NBA are also the only leagues that openly collude with the NCAA to prevent players from having any alternatives. Ironically, in hockey and baseball, the NCAA is seen as the alternative specifically because the leagues themselves sanction far more restrictive ways of making it to the pros, such as Canadian junior hockey where players originally had their rights controlled from the time they were teenagers (There is the issue of the lack of recruiting African-Americans in baseball, but that's another story in and of itself). Not that the NHL or MLB or the NCAA have altrustic motives at all for creating a system of alternatives (Quite the contrary if you look for example at the treatment of players from Latin America by MLB in the minors), but it somehow got to that point. The NFL and NBA could easily pressure the NCAA into a far less restrictive arrangement by changing their rules and creating an alternative way to make a living or get to the pros or even get rights such as agents. However, they won't and should be blamed as much as the NCAA for the simple fact that they have built their rules in a way that gives the NCAA a complete dictatorship over young football and basketball players.

well on the bright side

At least there is ONE AAU coach out there who actually cares about his players and his not just in it for a possible big pay day.

Death To NCAA

Bill Spurrier has suggested that coaches pay their players. Obviously, the Spurriers and Sabans have plenty of money to pay their players. I think the athletes in all revenue generating sports, which are mainly football and men's basketball, but it can also be baseball, hockey, and increasingly women's basketball, should be considered college employees.

In addition to guaranteed four year scholarships, plus room and board, said employment should include:
1. A monthly stipend of 25% of all gross revenue brought in by the athletic department paid out evenly to all athletes on scholarship on revenue generating teams. So if the football and men's basketball team at K-State has 97 scholarship players, they would all get an equal share of 25% of the $12.3 million Nike deal, which comes out to $31,701.03 per athlete.

2. 50% of the profits off the use of the names and likenesses of the athletes. If K-State nets $100,000 in profit off of the merchandise attached to a particular player's jersey, then he gets $50,000.

3. Full, non-deductible medical and lifetime disability coverage. This is especially important for the football players, who play what is easily the most injury inducing sport of them all. There is no reason why a college football player paralyzed for the life in a practice or game injury should ever receive a single medical bill for the rest of his life, given the obscene amount of revenue generated by big time football.




The coach who was so concerned about his player being able to eat also has a motive in that he might get a taste of future earnings of his players. The AAU system is also corrupt because the majority of parents pay outrageous fees while the best players ride for free. The coaches are also part of the dream machine that drives the problems of jamar.

The parents are part of it too. Take it from a person who ran a youth sports program for 15 years and has heard the parents talking about kids getting free educations.

I could scream out that no child, in the 26 years that I have been with them, has EVER been given a college scholarship to play basketball.

It wouldn't work because everybody holds onto the ridiculous notion that their child will be first.

The NCAA only takes advantage of an outrageous reality; that poor kids are wrung through the sports ringer at all levels and for all sports in the hopes of big money to be made some day.

The reality of lack of opportunity for poor kids is overshadowed by the hope that the big money will come.

The NCAA, the college coaches, the AAU don't care about kids. All of them are guilty.

If you want your child to play pro ball here is the best chance. Make sure that he is 6 feet 5 inches tall at the age of 12.

Then, hope that he doesn't get hurt and end his career.

Then hope he gets lucky enough to be chosen from among thousands of large people who are available to play and it would be easy to understand why and how the NCAA can have such sway over them.

FWIW it was actually it was his AD

John Currie suspended him even before the NCAA issued a ruling. This was a major sore spot for coach Frank Martin, who already didn't see eye to eye with his now former boss.

As to qestion #1, due process is a term pertaining to legal jeopardy. It's not a matter of age or unique to college sports. This would be a civil matter, not criminal. You cannot be legally jailed without due process, but no such protection exists against losing employment, scholarships or other privileges.


Due process is not only about criminal offenses. In this case, specifically, we're also talking about "Just Cause." People *do* have protections against wrongful termination, etc. I haven't read the NCAA rulebook, but I'd be shocked if the rule in question didn't use language like "knowingly and willingly" breaks rules. It seems pretty clear that Samuels didn't know he was breaking a rule of such consequence. But because he wasn't afforded the opportunity to clear his name, he suffered along with his team and (ironically) his university.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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