08/13/2014 11:27AM

Jerardi: NCAA ruling a cautionary tale for racing

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Did anybody catch that ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken last Friday that essentially said that the NCAA’s amateurism model was exactly what any rational observer always knew it was – a price-fixing sham designed to line the pockets of top NCAA officials and some universities and make sure men’s college basketball and football players get none of the billions its sports generate?

After I read the ruling, I considered the never-ending debate about medication in horse racing and the renewed call for federal intervention. I think there are some parallels. Stick with me.

Within a decade or less, the entire NCAA model may change, with the revenue generators on one side and the purists on another. The NCAA is an arrogant institution that has refused to share any revenue with the players whom fans pay to see and networks pay to televise. The NCAA never imagined this day coming and just kept stonewalling. Its top officials knew this was all a fraud but kept perpetrating it until former UCLA player Ed O’Bannon filed the antitrust suit, got monetary backing, and eventually got the facts of the fraud in front of an independent arbiter, who ruled there was no defense of the indefensible.

Here, I think, is the lesson for horse racing in what just happened to the NCAA, which almost certainly is just the first step. Horse racing obviously has no governing institution like the NCAA, which, by the way, actually is worse than having no governing institution at all. But all the disparate horse-racing parts, with their own acronyms and agendas, have diddled while bettors fumed; outsiders set the agenda, and the sport burns. You wait too long, and then you wake up one day and a judge is telling you what to do, rather than you setting your own agenda.

The general public’s perception is that the horses are viewed as disposable, illegal drugging is routine, and anything goes to cash a bit or win a race. Are there some people in the sport whom that applies to? Sadly, yes. But I have been around so many trainers and owners who want to do right by the horses and the game that I know better. It is easy to be cynical, and I generally would plead guilty. Still, I know what I know.

However, it is not about that. It is not about what we know. It is about what they think they know in a world where perception, absent easily explainable facts, is tantamount to reality.

I think there are some well-meaning people with very good intentions on uniform medication rules who have studied the issue and are trying desperately to do the right thing by getting all the states in line. But it is moving glacially because that’s what happens when a sport is regulated by state bureaucracies and not from a league office in New York, as is the case with the four major professional sports.

Do I have all the medication answers? No. Actually, I do not have any. I just am not educated enough. I have been around long enough to know what I don’t know.

In a perfect world, I would love to see a day with no Lasix and no race-day medication. I am also a pragmatist. This is not a perfect world.

Two sets of eyes can look at the same data and come to opposite conclusions. That is where we remain in the medication debate.

My point of reference on the debate is that I remember when Lasix was first being used legally at racetracks. It was obviously being used illegally before that.

First-time Lasix was pretty much an insiders’ secret in the early 1980s unless you knew where to look in corners of racing offices for lists of horses who had recently bled. Eventually, first-time Lasix started to appear in programs, and before too long, just about every horse in every race was on Lasix. Whatever edge an alert bettor possessed disappeared.

What has not disappeared is the skepticism and cynicism. I certainly do not have the answer, but it had best be found soon before some politician or judge decides to find it.

Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Good points. However, have to say, it isn't the illegal drugs but the LEGAL drugs which are the main concern of the racing public. Case in point is the Asmussen-Peta sting. The real issues brought out there were the proliferation of LEGAL drugs and legal practices in the Asmussen barn. Of course everyone agrees illegal drugs are bad and shoring up the policing of illegal drugs in racing is commendable. However, until the sport stops the legal drugs -- namely, raceday meds -- the public remains confused and reluctant to return to a sport that seems to have so little regard for its equine heroes. Yes, it is a cautionary tale to invite the Fed into oversight, but, with 38 racing jurisdictions squabbling over a uniform drug policy, nothing ever seems to get done to change the status quo. The fear -- and it's not a small one -- is the camel gets his nose in the tent and pretty soon the cure for the racing industry is worse than the malady. All well and good, but, the only thing worse than getting the Feds involved is not getting the Feds involved.
BigSkyEquine More than 1 year ago
It has never been sporting to needle horses before they race.
VanSavant More than 1 year ago
Mr. Jerardi; I always enjoy your writing, and I enjoy it even when I disagree with you, which is rare. This, however, is one of those rare exceptions. Just a point of note here regarding your claim that “college basketball and football players get none of the billions its sports generate”… well, technically they might not receive billions, but they do enjoy the fruits of their labor to the tune of tens of millions if not hundred of millions of dollars (as a collective). The cost of a college education at many universities can run upwards of $50,000/year and more. These athletes are actually being compensated, and quite handsomely I might add. My daughter, who will be a senior in high school this year, will be attending a university next year on a swimming scholarship. We thing that she will be fairly compensated for those efforts. Sure, her sport is not a net revenue generator, but even if it was, the deal would still be a fair one. Don’t pretend that college athletes aren’t being “paid”, because they are. It’s just not in cash (unless you are Cam Newton). And while I will agree that this payment is not commensurate with the revenue generated, it is a great deal for the athletes considering what it is they are doing while attending school. Later gator vs
Michael Cusortelli More than 1 year ago
I agree with you, Van. If these student-athletes are indeed students and take advantage of their full-ride scholarships and get an education, then they are being compensated. However, if they don't -- and a lot of them don't, they're just there to play football or basketball and aren't actually student-athletes -- then they are getting ripped off. And ripped off royally.