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The Issue of Amateurism

The foundation of college athletics is poised to be rocked. Is pay for play the answer?

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The topic of amateurism in college sports is hotter than ever and we may very well be on the cusp of a foundational change in regard to the status of the college athlete. Numerous arguments can be made for either side of the discussion, with an endless amount of statistical and anecdotal evidence as to why either side is right or wrong.

Without a doubt, the NCAA makes an inordinate amount of money off of the abilities and marketability of student athletes and there is no question that the athletes should have a claim to some of that. The problem lies in how this is accomplished.Some people are clamoring for a free market system that would allow a player to market themselves and profit directly. In my opinion, allowing a player to operate within a free market system doesn’t seem to be the answer. In this type of scenario, any school with half an immoral brain would find a way to direct funds toward attracting and keeping star athletes. It would be pretty easy to funnel payment to players under the guise of compensation for autographs, photos, jerseys, etc... A system like this would require immense oversight and control and, even with that in place, I am not sure it can be managed.

I also think the detractors that brush off the value of an education and all that comes with it aren’t seeing the big picture. Forget the fact that student loans can follow you for decades or that the discrepancy in pay between someone with a college degree compared to someone without is staggering, potentially equating to millions of dollars over a lifetime. What I view as most important is the fact that these athletes leave college with a set of life skills that are often times more refined than the average nonstudent athlete. As a result of being part of a team or program, the student athlete has often developed an advanced work ethic, along with being a more determined and accountable human being. These skills make them more marketable in the workplace than most new graduates. I make this argument fully aware that the typical 18-22 year old does not yet value life skills and workplace marketability. I know I didn’t. However, having been in the work place now for 10 years, I am able to understand their importance.  

While the cash value of a free education might not equal what a high profile player could make in a free market, the vast majority of student athletes aren’t wildly marketable. Of course the most high profile athletes could probably make an excellent living from merchandising, appearance fees, etc…, but what about the vast number of role players and athletes in non revenue sports? Of approximately 100 players on a Division 1 football team, how many could realistically go out and support themselves based on their name alone? And, if a high profile quarterback is earning money based on his success, wouldn’t his lesser-known offensive linemen (who directly impact his on-field success) deserve a piece of his earnings? Where would this trickle-down effect end?

Even as I write this article, I find myself flip-flopping on what side of the fence I am on. Change is needed but what kind and how? Is the NCAA profiting off these kids? Again, yes, but in what industry does this not take place? Most of us work for a company that brings in revenues far greater than our salary or wages. This is the way our system was built to work and rules are in place to assure it continues that way.  However, within that system, rules exist that provide the freedom to push for change and fight for what you believe you deserve. In that sense, I cannot help but root for the student athlete.

I don't have the answer but I do know that the old ways needs some revising and we need to be careful how we do it. For the time being this issue isn’t going anywhere and fundamental change could be right around the corner so I ask, do you see the need for change and how in the world should it happen?