Pro: College athletes should be justly compensated for their hard work
College athletics at the highest levels is a profitable entertainment business and too many athletes sweating and producing for the industry are exploited and under compensated.
The system needs to change and an appropriate compensation arrangement should be enacted.
Under the guise of amateurism, student athletes work long hours each day. They work what is often the equivalent of a full-time job on top of trying to successfully navigate college.
Now, it is true that the vast majority of the 450,000 plus college athletes are not money makers for their institutions or the peripheral industry.
The compensation that they receive in the form of continued pursuit of their passions and in help with getting a degree is and should be the shining example of a successful system.
Those success stories are harder to find though when taking a closer look at the two big money-making sports, football and basketball.
In these sports, even by the NCAA’s own bloated and incomplete methodology, the student aspect of the student athlete’s work falls measurably short of that of their peers in other college sports.
It is in these two marquee sports that the profits and power lead to a host of problems for athletes and their families. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to universities, coaches, agents, apparel companies and media, among others, and that wealth is produced by worker athletes.
All this money is not floating around because of the pursuit of education, but because athlete workers produce value.
Improprieties in recruiting are, frankly, the norm and are centered on money. The need for money among many budding college athletes and their families as well as the thirst for money among universities, coaches, sport agents and sporting goods companies drive these violations and the resulting exploitation.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently led a group in investigating problems related to scandalous behavior in college basketball.
While some aspects of the group’s recommendations might have some positive impact, the overall effort seemed to simply reinforce the NCAA’s long held position that student athletes, although treated like employees in a profitable business model, should operate under the NCAA’s definition of amateurism and not be afforded established norms around compensation and protections.
In fact, the NCAA so rampantly defends its definition of amateurism that it has actively sought to shut down entrepreneurial efforts of athletes in college even when those money-making activities have no tangible connection to the sport or the university.
This is a stark contrast to the NCAA’s blinded approach to enforcement of such things as recruiting and academic violations.
Even the “pay” via education provided many top athletes can often not add up to meaningful compensation as universities shuffle their money makers through light course loads or, in some cases, no course load at all, leading to meaningless degrees.
It is past time for change to come and for the militant approach to amateurism to be loosened.
The NCAA should continue and accelerate efforts to make the academic portion of student athlete compensation whole.
A few positive recommendations from the Rice report include establishing a fund to pay for degree completion for athletes who depart college and allowing underclassmen who are unsuccessful in getting drafted to re-enter school. Education quality control should be enforced more rigorously as well.
Those seeking to augment their finances, for example, through unrelated activities should be able to do so and those athletes whose obvious skill has value through the sale of their likeness should have the same right to profit from that skill as the universities, the NCAA and, indeed, the entire sports industry does.
The sooner the NCAA closes the cracks in the academic compensation, and rightfully shares the value of top athletes with the athletes themselves, the better for all involved.
Don Kusler is National Director of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the nation’s oldest progressive advocacy organization.
Con: Paying college athletes would cause more problems
In its recent report on college basketball, the special commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made several long overdue recommendations aimed at dealing with the sport’s “crisis of accountability.” But, wisely, it stopped short of suggesting that players be paid.
In largely keeping intact the NCAA’s core rule of amateurism, the 14-member commission reaffirmed the notion that while compensating players might sound attractive in this era of huge professional contracts, it would only lead to ever more problems down the road.
The commission’s focus was on basketball, but its findings could apply to college football as well. The report has been criticized by some, but it is at least a sincere and concerted effort to improve the troubled landscape of college athletics.
While few would deny that money is playing too large a role in collegiate sports today, it’s difficult to see how the situation could be made better by introducing even more money in the form of payments to players. And if amateurism breaks down at the college level, what’s to stop money from flowing to athletes even younger than college age?
It’s not as though today’s scholarship athlete is not getting something for his or her services rendered. A year at college today can be worth $50,000 or more. Add to that apparel and a host of other freebies that college athletes receive and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
Much of the current clamor for athlete compensation has sprung from the incredible popularity of college football and basketball on television, and the revenues these sports produce. But most of that revenue goes back to the universities where it’s used to support a long list of sports and academic pursuits.
Yes, the football or basketball coach is very well paid at many major universities. But everything from the campus library to the chemistry department to classroom construction benefits from the money generated by the sport. In effect, televised college sports are a product, and that product is in wide demand today.
The Rice commission made many recommendations, but three stand out among the others:
- The NBA needs to scrap its so-called one-and-done rule. This would enable elite players to enter the NBA draft out of high school. The current rule requires players to be 19 years old or a year out of high school, and has made programs like Kentucky and Duke a one-year stopover for players on their way to the NBA.
- The NCAA should create an independent investigative arm for handling major rules-infractions cases. For too long the NCAA has been too slow and basically toothless in its adjudications. That needs to stop.
- Make the punishments severe enough to discourage cheating. “Currently, the rewards for violating the rules far outweigh the risks,” Rice said.
All of the changes will have to be adopted by the NCAA membership in order to take effect.
The commission was formed in response to allegations by federal prosecutors last year of a scheme involving agents, financial advisers and shoe company executives to bribe the families of top high school players to sign with certain college programs. The allegations have already had the effect of forcing out Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino.
It’s doubtful that the Rice commission recommendations will clean up all that ails college athletics. The NCAA has a long history of moving with glacial slowness. But it’s at least a start.
In not recommending that athletes be paid, the commission affirmed the values of amateurism and an education for the nearly 99 percent of college basketball players who don’t go on to the NBA.
William H. Noack played basketball at Michigan State in the 1960s and is currently a business consultant in the Washington, D.C., area.