New York Times sports writer pinpoints failures of NCAA in journalism lecture

Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed columnist, writes about a myriad of issues, notably the NCAA, for The New York Times. He discussed the issues with the organization that he has unearthed from his book, "Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA." (Zhelun Lang/Daily Campus)

Here in the basketball capital of the world, sports are a big deal. The power of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, or NCAA, is significant, but Joe Nocera, New York Times columnist and author of “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA,” sought to highlight the failures of the NCAA at a reading attended by journalism students, professors, athletes and the president of the University of Connecticut.

“I was assigned, five years ago, to do a thought exercise. If you want to pay college players, how would you do it?” Nocera asked. “I spent about five months on that story, and in that process I began to get a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding collegiate athletes and collegiate athletics.”

The inspiration for the book, however, was none other than Ryan Boatright, former point guard for the UConn men’s basketball team who graduated in 2015.  

“Then Ryan Boatright, or I should say his mother, got in trouble with the NCAA. This was just months after I had written that initial story. As I learned what happened to his mother, I got angrier and angrier,” Nocera said.

Boatright’s mother, Tanesha Boatright, was the subject of an investigation by the NCAA over an ex-boyfriend’s accusations that she took money from a coach in order to afford a trip to Connecticut to look at UConn. 

“He made many allegations, and most of them were false, but some of them were true, and one of them that was true was that she had gotten money from a coach so she could visit Connecticut. Imagine that, a mother wanting to see the school where her son would play basketball,” Nocera said. “She was a single black woman alone in a room with four white men with no one to help her or represent her… [the NCAA] has far more power than a mere subpoena…What kind of mother can stand up to that raw power?”

The problems with the NCAA, Nocera said, could be boiled down to a few key issues with the core of the organization. 

“The two things that [the NCAA] lacks, more than anything else, are compassion and common sense,” Nocera said.

The increasing popularity of collegiate athletics, Nocera argued, is the main reason that issues like whether student athletes should get paid have become part of the national conversation. 

“As the money has become so huge…as all of that has happened, it has raised the visibility of this issue, which is, why aren’t the players getting enough? Is a scholarship enough and is the bargain that universities make a fair deal for the athlete?” Nocera asked. “Those are the questions that everybody needs to grapple with more, beyond just, should we give them health insurance?”

UConn President Susan Herbst was also in attendance at the reading, and did not shy away from criticizing the NCAA.

“The infrastructure and bureaucracy that they have, the compassion got lost somewhere,” Herbst said. “There’s no transparency.”

UConn President Susan Herbst attended the lecture and spoke of her frustration with the NCAA. "Change is needed, but as Mike, our sports information director, said, the NCAA at the end of the day is a member-run organization," Herbst said. (Zhelun Lang/Daily Campus)

At one point, Nocera raised the idea of lifetime scholarships, which triggered a discussion between him and Morgan Tuck, the senior forward on UConn’s women’s basketball team, who also attended the reading. 

“If we were to go pro, we need to be able to complete four years of college…You can’t enter into the WNBA draft until your high school graduating class has graduated college,” Tuck said.

“That’s ridiculous, they shouldn’t be able to do that,” Nocera replied.

Nocera went on to accuse the NCAA of institutional racism, treating investigations into black athletes differently than investigations into white athletes.

“The NCAA is suspicious of black kids in a way that they’re not suspicious of white kids. That’s just a fact,” Nocera said. “I think race is an important component here. I would love it if some black professional athletes would start speaking about this, because I know that they think about this…That could be a very powerful driver of change.” 

After the reading, Herbst suggested that the members of the NCAA could affect lasting change, but that the schools that make up the organization are currently too far apart, and their goals too different, to make a major change.

“Change is needed, but as Mike, our sports information director, said, the NCAA at the end of the day is a member-run organization. The board of the NCAA, who the president of the NCAA reports to, is a board of presidents…It’s all these different independent institutions, with different sizes and different interests, and they’re supposed to all come together and have the same interests in athletics. When you look at the board of governors for the NCAA…there are all these different kinds of institutions with different interests,” Herbst said.

Asked about the presence of UConn athletes in the audience at the reading, Herbst said she was proud of them for getting involved in the discussion and thinking about their future. 

“I’ve talked to so many of our athletes throughout the years, and they’re really engaged in what they do, but also thinking about what they do. It’s a real pleasure to talk to them about the bigger picture and not just how many baskets they score,” Herbst said.” 

Although the NCAA can seem extremely powerful, Nocera suggested that athletes themselves, at the professional and collegiate level, have the power to achieve sweeping changes in the world of collegiate athletics. 

“The Missouri football team last year showed how much power athletics on campus had…Football team said we’re not going to play unless this changes, and the president resigns in thirty six hours,” Nocera said. “The truth of the matter is, courts aren’t going to change it…the only way you’re going to get change is if the players say ‘enough.’"


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.