Barack Obama was somewhat of a surprise speaker during MIT’s Sloan Conference. How he fit into the sports analytics cabal wasn’t immediately clear, although the former President of the United States has made it abundantly known he’s a huge hoops fan.
Nevertheless, Obama spoke to the crowd at Sloan and although his speech wasn’t supposed to be made public, Reason.com reportedly got a copy of his comments to the crowd including his talking points regarding the NCAA.
We’ve already heard from LeBron James this week, who called the NCAA “corrupt” in the wake of a major pay-for-play investigation conducted by the FBI. The very real crime of money laundering notwithstanding, many feel the issue could be avoided entirely if players were simply paid their fair share relative to market value.
It appears Obama had similar thoughts, saying that he felt the G-League should be the developmental area for players wanting to get paid, sidestepping the moral quandary of poor college players wanting to take money from colleges to help their families.
He discussed his own years as a mediocre high school basketball player, remarked that playing basketball with other people revealed much about their character, and opined that the NBA would be well-served by junior league “so that the NCAA is not serving as a farm system for the NBA with a bunch of kids who are unpaid but are under enormous financial pressure.”
“It’s just not a sustainable way of doing business,” said Obama. “Then when everybody acts shock that some kid from extraordinarily poor circumstances who’s got 5, 10, 15 million dollars waiting for him is going to be circled by everybody in a context in which people are making billions of dollars, it’s not good.” Creating an alternative league for people eventually headed to the NBA “won’t solve all the problems but what it will do is reduce the hypocrisy” of pretending that all student-athletes are both students and athletes.
The NCAA is a sham of an organization that extracts wealth from labor far below fair market value. Over the past two decades the voice of people who believe players should be paid just keeps getting louder and louder. Now we have the most valuable NBA player on the planet and a former President saying it’s time for some kind of change. Perhaps we’ll see it sooner rather than later.