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This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘Should College Athletes Get Paid?’College sports in America is a multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise and, in my judgment, there is nothing wrong with that.
However, it is profoundly wrong that the athlete is denied the opportunity to benefit from that heavily commercialized enterprise beyond a scholarship, especially when others are getting wealthy off of it.
The issue isn’t coaches making millions or the NCAA President making approximately $2 million annually to run a “non-profit” organisation; the issue is the cartel-type mandate that the athletes be strictly amateurs.
The NCAA holds amateurism as a bedrock and cherished principle, even though amateurism offers nothing of value to the athlete. No athlete is a better student, a better teammate, or a better person by virtue of being an amateur.
Amateurism does not promote cohesion among teammates, otherwise professional baseball players, some of them millionaires, would not be allowed to play college football as amateurs.
The Olympics took amateurism out of its charter in the 1970’s, and many complained it would be the death of the Olympic Games. Years later, the Olympics is more profitable and popular than ever, and the earth remains firmly on its axis. The same would be true for college sports.
The only other endeavour in American society that mandates amateurism is golf. But, amateur golf is not a multi-billion dollar industry. Amateur golfers choose when they play and practice, or even if they play or practice. College athletes have no choice whether they play, and no say in when they play or practice.
They have mandatory press conferences in the NCAA Tournament, and are used to market this multi-billion dollar enterprise without being able to benefit from it. It is not immoral for NCAA institutions to make billions off of college sports. It is profoundly immoral for NCAA institutions to band together and deny athletes the right to benefit from the same enterprise.
“Colleges pay regular students all the time without making them employees, and it’s hardly seen as being antithetical to education.”
The NCAA says, ad nauseum, that an athlete should be treated like any other student and that athletics is an avocation. That is pure nonsense. No other student or person in a university community is restricted from benefiting from their talent, name or likeness like the athlete. And, when the NCAA says that allowing players to be compensated beyond a scholarship is antithetical to what college athletics is all about, or that allowing compensation of players would make them de facto employees and would not fit the “collegiate model,” that is pure nonsense. Colleges pay regular students all the time without making them employees, and it is hardly seen as being antithetical to education or college culture.
MORE: ‘Should College Athletes get Paid?’ at The Great Debate →
The free market works just fine for the rest of us, but somehow the NCAA expects us to believe that there must be a comprehensive agreement among every Division I institution as to what every Division I athlete in every sport would receive. Of course, that is ridiculous.
There is no need for some central authority to pass upon the exact amount an athlete should receive, just as there is no central authority to determine how much coaches can make, how much athletic departments can spend on salaries, and how much athletic departments can spend on private travel or lavish facilities that would make professional franchises blush. The answer is simply to allow players to operate in the same marketplace as everyone else.
“NCAA schools pay themselves first, have bloated athletic departments, and spend like drunken sailors on facilities, then plead poverty when all the money on the books is spent.”
The NCAA argument that so few college programs actually make a profit that it would be impossible to pay the players is similarly ridiculous. First, lumping together 350 Division I institutions and expecting that all to have to make a profit in order for anyone to benefit is absurd. NCAA schools do not base anyone’s pay on profitability. In essence, they pay themselves first, have gigantic and bloated athletic departments, and spend like drunken sailors on facilities, then plead poverty when all the money on the books is spent.
The NCAA is asking us to believe that, if a department fails to turn a profit, no one should be paid. Yet, the maths Department fails to turn a profit, and all professors and administrators are compensated at market rates. No coach or administrator is asked to work for room and board simply for the opportunity to work with the nation’s finest facilities with the finest young athletes with the chance that those coaches or administrators could someday realise the dream of working in the NBA or NFL. Yet, that is the same nonsense the NCAA is selling to the public.
Any NCAA institution that does not wish to operate in the marketplace does not have to. They can play sports in Division II and operate at a lower level. But, if they choose to compensate their athletes, they should be allowed to do so. And, players should be allowed to benefit from their names and likenesses in the marketplace, just like any other student, coach or administrator can.
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