Seth Davis is the lead college basketball writer for Sports Illustrated and part of the panel of suits that talks out of your television before, during, and after March Madness games. He’s also the son of Lanny Davis, a Washington ghoul nonpareil, whose allegiance has always been available to the highest bidder. Those bidders have tended to be among the least savory people on the planet: warlord dictators, colleges who harbored child rapists, the villainous owner of the Washington Redskins, etc. In exchange, Lanny got rich, of course, allowing him to provide a cushy life for Seth, who grew up in Connecticut and attended Duke.
Today, Seth has a new column at Sports Illustrated’s college-focused website Campus Rush. The column is titled—deep breath—“Will Players Stage a Strike at the Final Four? Rumors Persist Each Year, But I’ll Believe It When I See It.” At first blush it seems like Davis is writing merely about how it’s ultimately unlikely that a college team would ever pull out of the Final Four to protest not getting paid by the NCAA. But that headline is benign gloss, almost as if his editors were embarrassed by the actual point of the column, which starts off with an extended but entirely invented scene in which Oklahoma Sooners superstar Buddy Hield stands before his teammates and tells them they should boycott the Final Four because they play for free. They “respond” with this convincing argument:
One of Hield’s teammates blinks a few times, stands up and says, “Let me get this straight. We’ve been dreaming our whole lives of playing in the Final Four. I myself took a thousand shots in the driveway, pretending to win a national championship. Made every one. We’ve been at Oklahoma all these years—getting up early to lift weights, work out, get our shots up, practice our tails off, just so we could win enough games to get into the tournament. Now we have a chance to play in the Final Four. The Final Four! We’re going to have an open practice in front of tens of thousands of people, do all these interviews with big-time media. Then we’re going to play in a football stadium with 90,000 people in the house, with millions more watching on TV. The whole state of Oklahoma will be cheering us on. And if we win two more games, we’ll be national champs, and we’ll come home and they’ll give us a parade, and for the rest of our lives, we’ll be heroes because we delivered the University of Oklahoma a national championship.”
A rich guy’s wet dream is a poor teenager giving his basketball teammates a pep talk about pride.
In any event, this fantasy is just an excuse for Davis to pledge his fealty to the college sports establishment, which is under increasing attack, most recently and notably in the forthcoming book Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA, which is written by New York Times reporter Joe Nocera and cited in Davis’ column. Says Davis:
The problems facing college sports will be addressed this week, as well they should, but keep in mind that most of these same problems have been around since the enterprise began in the late 19th century. College sports, or at least college football (and later basketball), is big business, and wherever money is changing hands, corruption is sure to follow. But the transaction that will be on display this weekend is worth preserving. No, the players won’t be paid like professionals, but they will be feted like kings. They have earned that by working hard at their craft, under the supervision of some of the best coaches who ever stalked a sideline, in concert with the best strength and conditioning trainers money can buy, in front of the biggest audience most of them will ever see.
Exploited? Try blessed. Here’s hoping they spend this weekend counting their blessings while ignoring the members of the chattering class who are trying convince them to walk away.
We could all spend the rest of the day discussing the logical fallacies of Davis’ argument, from the idea that the world should operate as it did hundreds of years ago to the implication that it’s somehow a virtue for the sport’s money to flow to... strength coaches. Instead, we should appreciate this as a perfectly composed snapshot of establishment protectionism, as pervasive and pernicious in sports as it is in politics, the arena in which Davis père has led the charge for decades.
But the biggest takeaway for me watching Maryland last week is the distinctive leadership role that Rasheed Sulaimon has taken on. Remember, not only is he a transfer, but he also didn’t arrive on campus until very late in the summer because he was finishing up his coursework at Duke. Sulaimon has his flaws as a player (read: pounds the ball too much), but he loves the big moment in a way that few other players do. I believe this team gets a lot of its personality from him, and that is a good thing.
This is a breathtaking paragraph if you know anything about Sulaimon’s backstory. As Davis writes, Sulaimon is a “transfer” who “didn’t arrive on campus until very late in the summer because he was finishing up his coursework at Duke.” The reason for that is because Sulaimon was at the very least partly dismissed from Duke’s basketball team after being accused of rape (not that any administrator at Duke paid the allegations much mind at the time).
Alas, Seth crafting a narrative—alleged rapist as great team leader—that suspiciously elides an unpleasant fact is not exactly a surprise. It’s exactly what Lanny became famous for. The trash does not roll very far from the dumpster.