ARLINGTON — The NCAA comprises criminals dressed in thousand-dollar suits who are getting rich by exploiting free child labor. Just call those players slaves.This is what the hard-core sports idealists will have you believe — that student-athletes such as Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Ben McLemore, Johnny Manziel and the rest are being robbed because they’re not paid.They are being robbed. And maybe a hundred or so others like them are being robbed, too.The rest are doing the robbing. Good for them.What you never, ever hear in the endless debate and outrage over whether to pay student-athletes is that the vast majority of these young people are already being well compensated. Instead of a check, the payment takes the form of tuition, books, meals and housing. The problem is those things are boring.At some places, such as the University of Michigan, it’s $52,000 a year for out-of-state tuition.Ask the parents who are looking at a potential six-figure payment to cover their child’s college education whether the guy on a golf scholarship should be paid.Ask the recent college graduate with the student-loan bill of $100,000 whether her friend on the volleyball team merits a few extra hundred every week.The answer is no.The NCAA’s leaders, and so many of the high-profiles coaches, may be a bunch of rich frauds who exploit amateurism’s profits, but there is no way they can green-light the paying of student-athletes, because the vast majority of them are already well compensated. This issue is about fairness, which of course we know is impossible in any situation as big as college sports.“[Michigan] can pay my way and that $200,000 is enough,” senior guard Matt Vogrich said about the cost of a four-year degree for an out-of-state student at UM. “But a guy like Trey Burke and that $200,000 isn’t nearly enough; he’s made them more than that.”Vogrich’s point is indisputable, as it is for a small number of young men around the nation playing football or men’s basketball.Texas A&M could give Johnny Manziel a Ph.D. in whatever field he chooses and it will never be able to adequately compensate him for what he has meant to that school.The flip is, if you want a full college athletic department with men’s and women’s sports, there will always be unfairness. Welcome to life.The zealots will tell you to cut out the sports that don’t make money, which is all of them, except for men’s basketball and football at some schools.That would likely only require convincing a Supreme Court that is mostly conservative, yet supported the Affordable Health Care Act, to all but repeal Title IX.Most athletic departments support student-athletes who really are students, but they have to earn their payment. If you receive a full or partial Division I athletic scholarship, that team and that coach own you.“I feel like I earn this,” Wolverines junior Jordan Morgan said.All of them do. In return, they also enjoy some other amenities most traditional scholarship-recipients do not, whether it’s food, trips, stuff, etc.But it’s like anything else — a free education isn’t free. Whether it’s the sophomore history major who needs to maintain a 3.5 GPA to keep his scholarship or the swimmer who needs to be up at 5 a.m. to practice, everything has a stipulation.“There’s a lot of financial gains being made through this tournament, through the coaches, administrators and universities,” Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m not saying these guys should be on full salary, but there should be something done for them to make their life a bit easier when they’re going through college.”Notice no one ever tries to figure where the money comes from. Whatever solution you find, just assume absolutely no one in power will allow their own salary cut before they agree to a new plan.And know that nearly every single athletic department in the country already operates at a loss.And then assume that you can’t ask the general student body to pick up any of the costs.With the price of a four-year degree having soared into the life-burdening absurd, an athletic scholarship is enough, because today a degree is potentially worth so much for so many people.The problem is that Trey Burke is not most people, and players like him are the ones we care about. There are a lot of football and men’s basketball players for whom playing an NCAA sport is a raw deal.There is much truth in the perception that coaches are paid and behave like professionals while the employees are exploited by an unfair system.That is what the NCAA is — a system, and it can be gamed if done properly. For guys such as Vogrich, and so many others, the system works. For people such as Burke it’s exploitative. And it’s not fair. Welcome to life.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @macengelprof