The satirical lens of South Park isn't as powerful as that of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, and the show seems to have passed its prime in that regard — the underlying social commentary in recent episodes hasn't been as consistently biting and profound as it once was. Quality episodes have become less frequent, but every now and then Trey Parker and Matt Stone remind us what they are capable of when their brilliant minds running on all cylinders. This week's episode is a great example.
The University of Colorado Boulder's most famous non-grads take on the NCAA in this episode, comparing the organization to the slave trade. The argument goes like this: NCAA officials, and universities, make boatloads of money off of free labor provided by student athletes. The NCAA says it can't pay student athletes; that'd be against the rules. But the NCAA is the one making that rule. As an organization, it has created the perfect scam — thanks to its own definition of ethics, it would be unethical to make less money by paying the players.
This is not an old argument, and this South Park episode by no means provides the final word. But it's funny to watch Cartman, dressed as a Southern plantation owner, ask some nameless, faceless bureaucrat in an office decked with CU paraphernalia about how he avoids paying his "slaves."
"There are good reasons why our student athletes cannot be paid, young man!" proclaims the bureaucrat, who does not look one bit like CU Athletic Director Mike Bohn.
"I ain't arguin'!" Cartman drawls. "If they got paid, how'd we make all our money?"
Cartman ends the conversation by crying, "You think you can do whatever you want just because your corporation is a university? This country was founded on the ideals that one corporation couldn't hold all the slaves while the rest of us wallow in poverty! Screw you, sir; I'm going home."
Indeed, it is sometimes hard to believe a university has the athlete's best interests at heart, especially when the university stresses its academic credentials while creating an admissions loophole that allows them to enroll athletes who don't otherwise meet the academic criteria to attend the university. (This is pretty standard at many Division I schools, to the best of my knowledge.) I'm pressed for time writing this so I couldn't find up-to-date numbers on how many student athletes were enrolled through the admissions window, but in 2004, some CU teams had 75 percent of players admitted through the window.
The South Park episode doesn't propose any solution, opting instead to make fun of NCAA. The episode's lame subplot involving Guns N' Roses' Slash doesn't add anything of substance. But it's always nice to see the show take on big targets, like they did with Scientology, the Mormon church, Kanye West and so on. And if you think there's nothing in it for the guys at the top of the NCAA, thing again. The organization took in more than $700 million in revenue in 2008, and (now-deceased) President Myles N. Brand took home a salary of more than $1 million.