Behind the lines: The Portal…path to nowhere

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    The “Portal” it’s all about the “Portal” these days when you hear about Wyoming football or men’s basketball. The “Portal” sounds like something Thor or Iron Man would jump through to another dimension, or perhaps a time machine on an old episode of Star Trek that had Bones, Kirk, and Spock defying the laws of physics.

    No, it’s much more insidious a concept than either of those science fiction devices, it represents the end of traditional college athletics, at least in the two revenue-producing sports at the NCAA level, Division I college football, and men’s Division I basketball. Aside from wrestling at a few schools, the only sports that make a profit are these two. Men’s basketball and football pay for all the other men’s sports at most universities, and all of the women’s sports at every NCAA Division I school in America.


    Complain, deny, argue, it’s the reality of collegiate athletics and it spreads into the professional ranks as well where the NBA subsidizes the WNBA. You can “educate,” advertise and try to prioritize, but fans determine which turnstiles turn, and which teams play in empty arenas, it’s capitalism and the law of supply in demand in its cruelest, most visible form.

    The portal robs mid-major universities, like good ol’ UW in Laramie, while rewarding the upper-tier programs. After all, this is America, the rich are supposed to get richer, and the poor are supposed just to accept their fate.

    That’s what college football and men’s basketball have become, a classic case of corporate socialism for the wealthy, and gritty, merciless capitalism for all the rest.

    The one thing that is never mentioned in the debate about the portal is the proposition that student-athletes are students.


    A few schools, notably the Big 10 have high academic standards. Standards are so high, that athletes are expected to behave in class and study just like regular students. You don’t find that in the ACC, the Big East, or the SEC, the so-called “Power Conferences.”

    With just a wink and a nudge at academics, these programs have no intention of getting their guys to graduate. They’re too busy filling the till at home games and raking in even more money via television and live-streaming contracts.

    The portal lures these kids toward schools that can pay them extraordinarily well if their agent can get them a lucrative contract. But remember, they’re amateurs, not professionals. Ok, try proving that in court.


    At 40 years old Diana Taurasi is the highest-paid WNBA player at $228,000 per year, the league cap, along with two others. All three of these women are professionals. Compare Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the darling of the Women’s NCAA tournament this season and you’ll find a surprising disparity. Clark is predicted to make two to three million (that’s million with an “M”) dollars in endorsements next year if she returns to Iowa for her senior year.

    The best paid collegiate male athletes have lucrative NBA and NFL contracts waiting for them and most now leave school early for the lure of the big bucks. Clark doesn’t have much of a decision, she can go pro and make less money, or remain an “amateur” and continue to hear the chime of the cash register with each shot she takes.

    Many question the loyalty of the athletes who enter the portal. Why should they be loyal? They’re just hunks of meat on a collegiate money grinder that cares not one iota about their future after college, or if they’re injured.


    How many UW men’s basketball players can you name? (someone cue the theme from Jeopardy, I thought so.)

    No, it wasn’t always this way, and many of us remember when the football players and basketball guys were part of the campus.

    It’s a long time ago, but Charles “Tub” Bradley was a superstar for the Cowboys. Tub and I walked to class together often, and I had a few education methods classes with the future Boston Celtic. Tub was a kid just like the rest of us, but with a great vertical leap and strong hands on a 6-5 frame.

    Another Poke that hung around with us was Chris Engler, the 7-1 post from Minnesota. He and my roommate played in the same conference in high school and Engler was at our place often. He had to stand in the skylight since our converted garage apartment only had a 6-8 ceiling, but he didn’t mind as long as the beer was flowing.

    The point is, these guys were students, they went to class, they graduated, and they had careers after UW and in the case of these two giants, after the NBA.

    I student taught with a starting middle linebacker, and a cat quick cornerback at Cheyenne Central. Their playing days ended, and they had degrees and spent their careers in the classroom. I knew a couple of other football players who hooked up with UPS and stayed with the company, retiring on great union benefits thanks to the Teamsters.

    These guys were just students like the rest of us.

    I hope that’s still the case at UW for most of the football and basketball players on scholarship, but with the growing number of players who think they’ll get a chance at the big money if they move to a top 25 program, there isn’t much loyalty.

    I watched in amazement as a great UW men’s basketball team slowly unraveled this season. When the season ended, the Cowboys resembled rats jumping off a sinking ship as nine of them eventually entered the portal.

    The team is slowly rebuilding via that same portal, but how much of a fan following can a team of one to two-year eligible mercenaries generate? Not much I’m afraid.

    Yes, the new guys can shoot, rebound, and maybe even try to play team basketball, but if they’re good, it’s back to the portal.

    If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of the new system, but I’m not a fan of college coaches raking in millions in shoe contracts, and clothing endorsements either while the kids on his team can’t even afford a bus ticket home either.

    There has to be balance.


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