After its latest PR nightmares the NCAA needed some good publicity, and quick. Matt Lauer, Jay Leno, and Howard Stern were considered, but deemed too controversial. Anderson Cooper, it felt, is too invasive. No, the NCAA needed a layup. It needed to showcase its softer side. It needed a miracle. It needed … Oprah.
Below are the exclusive transcripts from the NCAA’s time on Oprah’s couch.
Oprah: Please welcome our guest for the day, the N. C. Double Aaaaaaaayyyyaaaaayyyyy
(scattered, subdued clapping)
NCAA: Thank you for having me on such short notice.
O: Thanks for being here. You’ve had quite a rough summer.
N: More like a rough year. Heh.
O: Why do you think that is?
N: I don’t know. It’s like people don’t like amateur athletics anymore.
O: You mean they don’t like the sports?
N: It’s … it’s just … it’s like they don’t respect amateurism. We represent the purity of sports. No contracts, no unions, no strikes, just passionate kids competing over their love for the game. We’re the truest amateurs. Even Olympians get paid.
O: It wasn’t always like this, was it? Have you always been disliked?
N: No, not at all. We have a long, and warm relationship with sports fans.
O: Is that right?
N: Oh yes. Dean Smith, John Wooden, the Four Horsemen, the Cardiac Pack, “Flutie did it,” “Send it in Jerome,” “The band is on the field.” There are so many indelible moments that come from college athletics. I mean you’ve seen the Jim Valvano speech.
N: It’s beautiful, it’s poignant, it’s touching. That’s college athletics. That’s the NCAA.
O: So you’re taking credit for Jimmy V’s emotional speech.
N: No, no. Of course not. What I’m saying is that was a beautiful moment of a coach, a teacher, outside of the locker room, giving one last pep talk; one final lesson. Moments like that showcase the beauty and innocence of collegiate athletics.
O: So when did things change? When did the public start turning against you?
N: I have no idea!
O: Come on, now. Be honest with yourself. There must be a moment.
N: Well, if I had to pick a specific moment in time, I’d say it happened around the second or third year of the BCS.
O: Go on.
N: Well, we had scandals in the past. Kentucky’s pay-for-play, SMU’s death penalty, and ASU’s point shaving, to name a few. But people always trusted us doing the right thing. After we instituted the BCS, things started going off the rails.
O: Why do you think that is?
N: Well, we claimed it was a program to definitively determine a champion in college football. We said the computers were foolproof. They weren’t. Championship matchups worked out well sometimes, but they were mostly arbitrary. The truth is, we were no better off than when we had the two-poll system.
O: But once you realized this, you changed it, right?
N: Er, well, we’re changing next year.
O: How long did you saddle your fan base with this?
N: This year will make 16 years.
O: So you’re telling me that you had an upset fan base for 15 years before you decided to make a change? You kept them clamoring for change just to drive ratings? You exploited your largest, most profitable franchise, not to mention your most passionate fan base, and for what?
N: Well, I guess I just didn’t want to be wrong. I thought I could make things better. Plus the money was REALLY good. But I’ve realized my mistake and am changing things.
O: So from the BCS debacle your fans started nitpicking?
N: Pretty much. The Internet has given everyone an open forum and we are chum in the water.
O: There’s a lot of talk about your uneven penalties. For instance I see here that coaches can provide recruits with a snack, but not any toppings. So they can have a bagel, but no cream cheese?
N: Er …
O: And that you’ve disallowed coaches from paying students’ ways home if they have deaths in the family.
N: Well …
O: And you recently banned a former marine from playing football because he was in a USMC recreational league. Is this true?
N: We reevaluated that situation and changed our decision within 24 hours.
O: Excuse me for saying this, but that seems awfully petty and callous. Is there really no room for interpretation? No flex? It seems like a real waste of resources. You appear to pay way too much attention to matters of little consequence. My friend Dr. Phil calls that a skewed sense of responsibility. False righteousness. Maybe you should take a broader view of things.
N: When you put it that way, Oprah, it does seem quite silly. I need to change things.
O: Would you like to discuss the Miami/Nevin Shapiro situation?
N: I’d rather not. It’s terribly embarrassing. I was lazy and got caught.
O: Okay, then tell me about paying players. Why don’t student athletes get compensated?
N: But they do get compensation. They get an education. Plus they can work side jobs to make money.
O: Isn’t it true that athletes’ scholarships aren’t guaranteed? They’re offered on a year-to-year basis, right.
N: Yes ma’am.
O: You made nearly $800 million last year, but kids can’t profit off their names or likeness. And their education isn’t fully guaranteed. That is a large inequity.
N: I see where you’re coming from, but, as I said, they’re able to get a job.
O: Wasn’t Johnny Manziel recently under investigation for allegedly signing autographs? That’s a job, right?
N: Erm … well he can’t do that job, per se. It’s against the rules.
O: Let’s say he worked in a diner. And everyone between Dallas and Houston came to that diner just for Manziel to wait on them. Let’s say people waited for hours just to sit in his section and he made 10 times the tips of other waiters. Wouldn’t that be profiting off his likeness? He has an unfair advantage over the other wait staff, especially when you think how many waiters sign their customers’ tickets.
N: Gee, I never thought of it that way. I never really considered that there was a gray area. Wow! Not everything is black and white. And with $800 million, maybe I could spread the wealth around. I am an industry with employees. I should start treating our players as such.
O: Ladies and gentleman, I think we just had a breakthrough!
(cheers and applause)
N: Thank you so much, Oprah! You have changed my perspective, changed my business, changed my life.
O: Let me leave you with one last tip. Changing your rules and internal makeup will be a long, grinding process, but you can alleviate some stress. Be proactive. Really THINK about the public perception. Social media can turn against you in an instant. Be flexible with your rules; consider the gray area. Find a public interest story or two and rule in the athlete’s favor. Get some positive spin. Control the media. Universities get all the credit; get some rub from their positivity. Think of what’s best for athletes and what’s equitable, not just about the bottom line.
N: Thank you, Oprah. You really are the Miracle Worker.