A federal court judge rejected a motion by the NCAA on Tuesday to prevent football and men’s basketball players from legally pursuing a cut of live broadcast revenues. The ruling itself doesn’t guarantee student-athletes in revenue sports will someday be paid for their efforts — that would still have to be hashed out in a separate settlement — but it does enable college letter-winners to legally pursue compensation through litigation.
A class-action suit led by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon has reopened the pay-for-play conversation. Is remunerating college athletes long overdue or should it still be off-limits? You be the judge. Allow me to moderate both sides of the divide.
The NCAA is a billion-dollar business raking in Benjamins off the backs of overworked student-athletes. College sports is a glorified work study program. All student-athletes, of revenue-generating sports or otherwise, deserve compensation for their commitment. Non-student-athletes can profit from extracurricular work during college. Why scapegoat the jocks?
College athletes already receive that compensation. It’s called an athletic scholarship, valued at some institutions in surplus of $50,000 per year. Those who covet more money are welcome to pursue other jobs in conjunction with their student-athlete responsibilities. If you sign up to be an NCAA student-athlete, there are certain concessions you wittingly make. Don’t like them? Don’t play.
Scholarships are not just compensation
Membership schools are paying student-athletes in currency many of the athletes don’t want or use. For those who are at school chiefly to play sports at a developmental level, what good does a year or two of paid-for classes do? Paying athletes with academic coinage is as inapt as rewarding academically-inclined scholars with a free gym membership. That’s probably not what the library-dwelling double-major is looking for.
The NCAA’s model is not unique to sports.
Think of the college experience for pro-bound athletes as an internship. Unpaid internships are common practice in many trades in the United States. College students take unpaid or scantly-paid internships as résumé builders. The practical application and the real-world experience it provides, while uncompensated in the short-term, pays dividends down the line. Nearly all physicians serve a residency after graduation from medical school. Anyone screaming foul about malpractice in the medical profession? College basketball is like an internship — compensated through scholarship, even — that looks great on an athlete’s NBA résumé.
At least let them capitalize on endorsements and broadcast revenue
If you don’t want to recompense college athletes with wages, fine, but don’t deny them the opportunity to pursue endorsement opportunities and other cuts of the revenue pie on the unstable grounds of “protecting the integrity of the student-athlete.” Translation for that hogwash motto: exploitation.
That proposal would ruin college sports
If athletes are entitled to shares of revenue, which are a direct function of the programs for whom they play, the top athletes will only want to play for the top-tier programs, the cash cows with the spotlight all to themselves. This will monopolize the game and create an even larger gap between the financially-strapped mid-majors and the robber barons of the power conferences.
Not buying it
Newsflash: the best recruits are already naturally drawn to the big stage. In the current climate, notice any student-athletes shunning Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina for Toledo? The inherent attraction to big-name programs will exist irrespective of whether the NCAA allows student-athletes to take advantage of their capitalistic rights. The exposure, networking, overall college experience and other perks attached to brand-name schools are already too much to pass up.
Paying players is unrealistic
In principle, pay-for-play is a nice idealistic idea. But who exactly is paying them? The NCAA may be a money pit, but even the governing body can’t afford to sufficiently finance tens of thousands of student-athletes across the country. In the end, it boils down to the schools. How many of the member institutions actually want to throw away accounts-worth of money on a potentially hazardous investment?
It beats the alternative
Better to bring college recruiting back above board than allow the dirty shenanigans taking place at the underworld of prospect-chasing to continue to prosper. Agenda-driven boosters, agents and hangers-on are steering kids to certain institutions in this so-called “pure” culture the NCAA has cultivated. For the price of allowing colleges to transparently pay players under a universally agreed upon standard, the benefit of ridding cancerous influences from the game is well worth it.
Paying players above board won’t stop the dirty play below
The illusion of a level playing field from afar doesn’t mean mischief won’t persist beneath the surface. Boosters and agents will continue to leave their carefully-disguised imprints on the game whether student-athletes profit above board or not. Pay-for-play will only raise the bidding stakes.