Educating Jeremy: Jeremy Bloom tells his side of a losing battle to regain his eligibility with the NCAA, which has decided to make him a one-sport star
Last week, the NCAA rejected Colorado’s request to restore wide receiver Jeremy Bloom’s eligibility. Bloom, who also is a standout freestyle skier, has battled the NCAA for the past two years to allow him to play for the Buffaloes while also accepting endorsements to fund his ski training. Bloom left Colorado’s camp earlier this month and currently is training with the U.S. Ski Team near Santiago, Chile, in hopes of making the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Colorado, which hoped to have Bloom aboard to add speed and needed experience at receiver, has appealed the decision.
I think I’ve been wrong about the caring folks at the NCAA all along. They have received way too much negative attention about their unwillingness to have an open mind concerning my unique athletic situation. As it turns out, their reasoning behind this decision has taught me some of the greatest lessons in my life.
I owe them an apology, and I hope that after reading this, you, too, will understand this was just a case of an immature and over-ambitious 20-year-old asking an organization to allow unacceptable and selfish circumstances.
Two years ago, I became a proud member of the 2002 Winter Olympics team and then won the World Cup overall title as a freestyle skier. Then, a few weeks later, the NCAA informed me that if it were to allow me to continue my financial means of paying for my trainer, nutritionist, physical therapist and agent for skiing, I would be endangering the core principle of amateurism as a college football player. Although at the time it seemed silly, looking back I believe they made the right call. It is true my relationship with those people would have been more damaging to the spirit of amateurism than, say, the University of Miami’s relationship with star football recruit Willie Williams, who has been arrested 11 times since 1999.
So I took their advice and dropped all my legitimate ski-related sponsors and enrolled at the University of Colorado, where I became a proud member of the football program and the social science department.
Even though the NCAA denied multiple waivers to let me play football, at least it provided me with a lengthy and adequate response to why it felt the request was off-base. It read something like this: No.
That response helped me to understand the value of a simplistic and concise answer to a question. If my coach, Gary Barnett, would have taken this approach when asked if Katie Hnida was a good football player, he never would have put himself in a position of conflict and would likely not have been placed on administrative leave by university president Elizabeth Hoffman.
But that wasn’t the end of my education by the NCAA. Before the first road trip of my collegiate career, Coach Barnett made it mandatory to wear a sport coat to the game. At the time I didn’t own a sport coat, so I borrowed one from one of our trainers.
The following week, during my weekly phone call from our compliance office, someone informed me that, due to NCAA rules, I would be fined $35 for a “rental fee.”
This is when I learned the NCAA holds a tight monopoly on the “rental business.” In fact, it rents out college athletes every year. While I was in college, the NCAA rented me out to many different corporations and allowed me to play in endorsement-filled stadiums every week. The NCAA even allowed the university to sell a jersey with my school and my number on it in stores all over Colorado.
I didn’t get any of the money that was generated by this service, but at least the NCAA paid for my schooling, right? Well, no. Actually, the NCAA didn’t pay a penny of my scholarship, and the university only paid half. The other half came from my “personal scholarship donor,” a private citizen who donates money to Colorado to fund student-athlete scholarships. Now that the NCAA is finished with me, it simply will dismiss me, just like it does with thousands of student-athletes every year. And why wouldn’t it, when it has thousands of fresh-faced, new student-athletes every year who are eager to join the cycle?
While I was in college, the NCAA made more intelligent decisions than not. However, there was one decision that impacted someone else’s life that is hard to forgive. Aaron Adair was a young man who battled brain cancer for a long portion of his life. He not only had enough heart to become part of the select few in the country to overcome the unthinkable disease, but he also possessed enough to make the University of Oklahoma’s varsity baseball team.
Aaron wrote his own book while he was in college, intending to give other cancer patients hope they too could win their battles with the disease. After his book was published, the compassionate and understanding folks at the NCAA ended Aaron’s dream of playing baseball because his name was attached to a “corporate product.”
But life rolls on in the wonderful world of amateur athletics because the NCAA doesn’t have to justify its decisions to anyone. They are the all-powerful people who make decisions that will have a positive impact on the “student-athlete.”
All of the lessons I learned from this organization will make me a rich man. Eventually, I think I’ll start my own amateur business. I not only will provide housing and a positive working environment, I also will teach my employees the benefits of working as a team. And though I’ll be making millions running this business, I will sympathetically tell my employees that paying them would corrupt the purity of my business and their learning experience. If they try to support themselves in other ways I find inappropriate, I’ll dismiss them.
And I’ll laugh as I pull away in my Mercedes, because they’re at my mercy, and I won’t have to answer to anyone.
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