The premise of Wednesday night's HBO Real Sports report on pay-for-play in college athletics -- with a specific focus on allegations against Auburn football -- centered around the NCAA system as a whole, and the exploitation of college athletes. Like the allegations of impropriety, the idea that college athletes are exploited by a system that profits off their skills, but doesn't allow them to realize their own market value isn't new. The NCAA and its institutions are a big business, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue each year from a product created by amateur athletes.
The opening segment of Wednesday night's show set the tone for the entire report. A clip of the Tyron Prothro play is shown, followed by a profile of the former Alabama receiver. Prothro went from promising college athlete to post-collegiate bank teller after a horrific leg injury suffered during his junior season. His story was used as a reminder that while college athletes do receive a free education, many are unprepared for a life without football, and unable to capitalize on the free education.
Prothro's story was one echoed throughout the entire Real Sports report. Ed O'Bannon, former UCLA basketball star, works at a car dealership and is suing the NCAA for using his likeness. Troy Reddick, one of the former Auburn players to bring forth allegations of improper benefits, said he was forced to change his major after it interfered with practice times. Education merely hindered the goal of building a successful athletic program, according to many of the athletes interviewed as part of the report. So that athletic scholarship that serves as currency wasn't so valuable when the players were never able to cash it in after athletics disappeared.
But while Real Sports concluded the system was broken and exploited athletes, neither the reporters or panelists were able to present a legitimate solution to the problem. Paying players without a proper system in place is a polarizing topic, staying the course will lead to further problems and watching the system collapse on itself does more harm than good.
In the end, the show presented the same problems many fans of college athletics already knew without furthering the conversation. When the conclusion is the system is broken and someone should fix it without presenting a solution, it's as if the viewer was taken for a ride, only to end up driving around the block to arrive back where they started.