I’ll cut right to the chase here. Any time you see an athletic director, college president or conference commissioner talking about preserving “amateurism” in college athletics, you should keep in mind they are acting in their own best interests. They are not interested in altruistically protecting the “amateur ideal” or looking out for the best interests of “student-athletes”. They are looking out for themselves and the greatest asset college athletics has at their disposal: Cheap labor.
The discussion about paying student-athletes seems like an almost constant one but has become acutely focused on Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard after his little Twitter rant about the pitfalls of “pay-for-play”. More here: (http://deadspin.com/iowa-states-ad-trolled-all-players-united-on-twitter-t-1392479723)
One of his points actually hits home with me. He claims there’s no way to pay players without “eliminating all other sports”. The “all” is maybe a bit over the top, but with budgets at most every athletic department stretched to the limit already, I’ll concede that it would be difficult for schools to afford salaries without making cuts. (Although maybe the NCAA’s billion-dollars in revenue could help.)
However, Pollard also builds a straw-man argument with this claim: “Ask a student body member with thousands of dollars of debt at graduation how they feel about a student-athlete saying they should be paid?” That would be like me complaining that I don’t make as much money as Bob Costas. I mean, we’re both sportscasters, right? Besides, your non-athlete undergrad has unfettered freedom to pursue ways to make money and not solely rely on scholarships to get through the semester.
Pollard concludes with this: “Time for silent majority to stand up and value education!” Okay. Where is that silent majority now? Exactly who are the student-athletes who think “Hey, I have everything I need included in my scholarship and couldn’t possibly need another dime! And neither should any other student-athlete!” I’d like to meet them.
I think Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany may be on to a better track. (More here: http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2013/9/26/4772814/jim-delany-nfl-minor-league-big-ten)
It would be a better solution to allow athletes the opportunity to jump into the professional ranks out of high school. That won’t happen for a million, billion years, though. Not as long as the NFL has an unofficial minor league it doesn’t have to fund. Not as long as the NBA can bar high schoolers from jumping to the league.
For my money, the best solution is something along the lines of the “Olympic Model”. The International Olympic Committee feared for years that allowing athletes to financially benefit from their abilities would ruin the Olympic games. Once they finally relented, they were proven dead wrong. The Olympics now bring in more revenues than ever thanks to growing viewership worldwide and the ginormous TV revenues that pour in as a result. The same thing is happening in college football and I see no reason why the athletes, who, after all, are the reason we tune in, shouldn’t be able to reap some sort of financial benefit as a result. . I’m not discounting the value of an education, but in a free market, plenty of athletes could make a pretty fair amount of money without getting a paycheck from the school. So I say let athletes profit from their likeness, their autographs and their endorsement opportunities. Schools don’t have to pitch in an extra dime and athletes won’t have to wait until they’re eligible to go pro or graduate to actually reap the financial benefits they provide to their schools. Let’s get it done.