It is becoming common knowledge by those who know me that I truly have a problem with how big time college sports are managed in terms of sharing the wealth with college athletes. On one hand, you have the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which was established in 1906 to set rules for amateur sports. Its original cause of protecting amateur athletes from both physical harm and unethical influence was a noble one. At some point in its history its focus seemed to shift from the athletes to various money interests, primarily themselves. On the other hand you had colleges and universities whose primary goal of “educating the student athlete” changed over time as college sports became a huge money maker for the schools and associated alumni groups, booster clubs, etc. It is the combination of the NCAA and these institutions of higher education that in the opinion of many have formed a pseudo-cartel controlling billions of dollars that flow into their coffers. In the middle you have the student athlete who over generations has evolved into semi-pro athletes and athletic guns-for-hire. It is the well being of these athletes that concern me most.
Thanks to astronomical media broadcast deals and unbelievable apparel and shoe contracts, the NCAA, and many schools and the conferences they belong to have become rich beyond what was imagined decades ago. Meanwhile, the financial plight of most student athletes have not improved at all. Let’s put aside the possibility of big pro contracts and those that break the rules by receiving material goods and services aside for the sake of argument. These very rules, which are defined and administered by the NCAA, is setup to keep cash flowing in the direction of these very institutions of which little if any trickles down to the athletes themselves.
Gerald D. Higginbotham, who wrote “Free Play: Unmasking and Ending the Exploitation of NCAA Student Athletes” for the Student Pulse, an online academic student journal, gives his point of view concerning corruption in big time college sports. He candidly discusses the Reggie Bush situation, as did I in my blog “If I were Reggie Bush”, mentioning how Bush was asked to return his Heisman trophy while his school, the University of Southern California, though heavily penalized was never asked to pay back the revenue Bush generated while playing at USC. This certainly appears that the tandem of the NCAA and an institution of higher learning are in league making sure that the wealth stays between them. In his column Higginbotham states:
“The NCAA and its affiliates, on the other hand, can be accused as the real perpetrators of moral infractions against its “big-time” athletes. These “amateur student-athletes” are held to professional standards and forced to place their sport before other academic pursuits, while their school benefits financially from their professional abilities. Basketball and football players are essentially funneled into the college realm because of imposed age requirements by their respective professional leagues. This forced “amateur” environment contributes to the large number of infractions committed by professional-ready players.”
So what should be done about it? How about PAYING THE ATHLETES!
Higginbotham goes on to propose his idea of a minor league for basketball and football players who would only attend college to develop their athletic skills with the intent of paying them for their services. Whether one agrees or not, at least he’s proposing something fairer than what exist today.
ESPN Columnist Michael Wilbon admitted in his recent column “College athletes deserve to be paid” that he did a 180 degree turn on his belief of not paying college athletes to feeling that it’s probably time for giving these kids some form of compensation. What changed his mind was the $10.8 billion deal between the NCAA and CBS/Turner Sports for college basketball’s March Madness between 2011 and 2024. There were several other huge television deals mentioned in his column which kicked the door open to the notion that athletes need financial love too. He goes on to discuss possible logistics of how this could be worked out but his emphasis is that something needs to change.
With the ever building ground swell of guys like Higginbotham and Wilbon, perhaps we can see some changes made in big time college sports. Will it take a federal investigation to get some movement on this topic? Who knows. After all, if congress and the president can make comments concerning the BCS then why can’t they look into this. I think most could agree that something in the way of fairness to those collective individuals that are responsible for the creation of wealth that seems to pass through every one’s hands except their own should happen.
Are you listening, Cartel?
For more on my take on collegiate athletics visit my recent blog “If I were Reggie Bush…“