They’re Watching You: How the NCAA Infringes on the Freedom of Families

Not to pile on, but for a high visibility organization, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is truly unique in what it continues to get away with. The Association is so bold that it has normalized behavior that was deemed anachronistic centuries ago. 2 As March Madness fades from memory and the NFL draft looms on the horizon, it seems as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the many ways in which the NCAA is based on deeply troubling foundations. Sometimes by focusing on the low hanging fruit we miss some of the more bothersome and egregious injustices of the college system that disproportionately disfavors those who are most talented, poor, and of color.

This Essay argues that the NCAA’s surveillance of the family and enforcement of its rules amount to a sumptuary restraint on the families of talented NCAA athletes. In order to keep its cartel in place, the NCAA must bar not only the athlete but everyone in his family from extracting any value from his talent. Luxury purchases are in effect barred for poor families. This is where the NCAA’s enforcement and investigative arms step in. Disproportionately, the families of black athletes are put on notice that any signs of extravagant consumption (that is, beyond the level they should be able to afford) will lead to investigations and potential suspensions. At the moment when these families should be happiest, they have to worry lest they give off any appearance of living beyond their means. I argue that the NCAA’s rules disproportionately disadvantage poor individuals of color. This underscores the inherently unjust nature of the college sports system and the complicity required to keep it in place.