All bad things must come to an end. Breaking Bad dims the lights on its series finale Sunday night, the BCS era draws to a close on Jan. 6, 2014 and at some point, the NCAA may split the FBS into two separate divisions of haves and have-nots. The more important change on the way may be the demise of the amateurism in college athletics.
Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, and Walter White have more in common than a first name. Walter’s enterprise began in an RV with Jesse Pinkman. Their teacher-student relationship is at the core of Breaking Bad’s dynamic. What began as a mutual partnership devolved into an abusive manipulation of Pinkman by Walter. Walter handled the chemistry, but Pinkman did the dirty work.
The NCAA’s roots can be traced back to a cramped suite at 101 West 11th Street in Kansas City with three offices and a closet. Pinkman is an allegory for the NCAA’s student-athletes putting their bones and bodies on the line for a meager payout. Since the NFL disclosed the findings of its studies, we’ve learned that football is just as poisonous to the human brain as methamphetamine is for dental health.
The term student-athlete was developed by the NCAA as a way for Byers to protect the member universities against worker’s comp claims filed by players wounded on the field. This isn’t conjecture or pontificating, Byers has admitted as such.
Jesse is the ultimate pawn. For the third time in the series’ history, Jesse is an indentured servant who reached his limit. It’s a predicament that college athletes can identify with. The exploitation of student-athletes has been going on for over 60 years. This isn't about academics or football leagues, the NCAA is in the "empire business"
Likewise, there have been increasingly larger cracks and fissures in the NCAA’s once impervious structure. Over the weekend, student-athletes across the nation scribbled the initials APU for All Players United on their equipment to protest the NCAA’s stance against compensation and for better healthcare. It was a subtle protest, but it was the most blatant signs of dissonance we’ve seen from student athletes since the 1939 freshmen class for the then-eight time national champion Pittsburgh Panthers went on strike until the university agreed to begin paying their tuition, room, board and auxiliary expenses.
As Breaking Bad crawls to its explosive end, the exploitative era of collegiate athletes also appears to be nearing a slow, grinding halt thanks in part to adjunct North Carolina law professor Robert F. Orr’s representation of Ed O’Bannon in a class-action civil lawsuit against the NCAA over the rights to images of student-athletes.
Walls are closing in even as current NCAA cartel president, Mark Emmert, shifts the responsibility for student-athletes being restricted from the basic human right of profiting off of their own marketability and talent onto school presidents. He’s not oblivious to the changing tides. He just seems determined to go out Scarface style with guns blazing to protect his organization’s barrels of cash revenue. That never ends well. Cupidity brought down Heisenberg and Walter Byers’ empire is falling into the same trap. The NCAA’s comeuppance is coming.