The NCAA, the governing body for college sports, has been in the news recently for its board’s decision to begin the process of allowing college athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.”
Right away there were those who wondered, perhaps rightly so, “well, what does that mean?” “Benefit” can be a vague concept. Are we talking outright payments in cash, a lifetime supply of Gatorade or what? “Begin the process” doesn’t sound like anything is going to happen very soon, either, even though California has already taken the first step with its own Fair Pay to Play Act.
“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” says Michael Drake, NCAA board chairman and president of Ohio State University, in fine bureaucratese.
But hold that ball right there at the line of scrimmage, Mr. Drake. Are we forgetting about providing the best possible experience for college students who aren’t athletes, or maybe the ones whose sports aren’t very high-profile (read lucrative)? Does anyone care about sports that don’t fill stadiums? Does anyone care about English majors?
Mr. Drake also notes that “improving support” for student athletes would include more of covering the “full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships” and doing this “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” Huh?
In my humble, peevish, and perhaps somewhat dated opinion, the problems associated with student athletes, paid or unpaid, exploited or coddled, are multiple but not without solutions. Here are a few suggestions.
If you want to play sports, play sports. If you want to go to college, go to college. Either order. You’ll probably still be a pretty good athlete at age 21 or 22 if you opt for college first, and your capacity, and appreciation, for learning might be greater if you postpone college for a few years after high school.
If pro sports folks want an arrangement of farm teams, semi-pro teams, junior leagues or whatever they want to call the cache of not-ready-for-prime-time-players, then sit down with the people involved and figure out a system that compensates the participants fairly. Stop looking to the higher education system to subsidize your game and cough up some money and benefits to these kids who are paying your salary.
If an athletic department and its pricey accoutrements are making money from the quarterback or the forward, especially if those students are at the school (ostensibly to get an education) on athletic scholarships, then why shouldn’t the money be distributed throughout the entire school? Why the disparity between academic and athletic salaries? A few million in endorsements would provide a lot of academic scholarships or maybe enable the school to hire more professors.
The NCAA has been characterized as one of sports’ most powerful money-making machines, so it’s not like it would be taking food out of anybody’s mouth if the powers-that-be said, OK, we’re changing the rules so players can profit financially from their own talents.
Or, maybe we should change the rules so nobody makes any money from college sports.