Prodded by California’s new law and a wave of similar legislation in other states, the NCAA has agreed, most grudgingly, to let college athletes earn money off their name, image and likeness. But the decision comes with its usual dose of hypocritical claptrap about keeping college athletics “amateur” or “nonprofessional.”
With college athletics now a multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry, with just about every major college coach earning multi-million dollar contracts, and with 27 schools making at least $100 million a year off athletics, let’s quit the kidding.
At big-time schools in particular, college athletics is hardly amateur. Colleges are to football what the professional minor leagues are to baseball: their farm teams. It’s time to recognize that.
A similar hypocrisy is found in basketball, where the NBA requires 19-year-old players to first play a season of college basketball. To his credit, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in May that the one-and-done rule is no longer good policy. The NCAA should ensure its elimination.
It was interesting this week to see how quickly the NCAA folded on the issue of college athletes earning money for their name and likeness. The rule doesn’t just affect T-shirts and jerseys. It also lets college sports stars hire agents, make endorsements, offer paid lessons or perhaps monetize a YouTube channel.
For years, the NCAA has warned that compensating college athletes would undermine the integrity of college sports. The organization that regulates student athletics prefers to emphasize the educational value of athletic scholarships. It ignores, however, that the time and travel demands of big-time sports are hardly conducive to serious scholarship.
Indeed, what’s maddening about March is the pretense that players who make the NCAA tournament will have any significant class or study time during that period. Is it any wonder so many players end up taking easy majors like physical education, rather than majors that will prepare them to earn real money after college? Most won’t make the pros, after all. Only a few do.
But there was the NCAA in June, threatening to ban California’s 23 Division 1 schools from its competitions should the state legislature pass the bill that allows athletes to benefit from their celebrity.
In the face of federal legislation that would do the same thing, the organization obviously decided that the wise course was not to battle California or punish its schools for something state lawmakers did.
The problem with the rule change is that no T-shirt manufacturer is going to bid for the rights to a second-string offensive lineman. Most college athletes won’t get a dime. Many of them come from poor families who can’t afford to send spending money, forcing the athlete to rely wholly on the food, lodging, tuition and books that come with their scholarships.
One athletic director described recruits who take groceries from the athletic facility, something the school considered positive because they included fresh fruit and vegetables.
But what if an athlete wants to take his girlfriend on a date and gets zero from home? Fresh fruits and vegetables are hardly the dreams that dates are made of.
As it stands, even if a family member back home is dying or dead, a school can’t give an athlete a dime toward their travel. And if the coach so much as gives them a ride to the airport, down comes the NCAA.
The rules are strict because of the abuses of boosters, who are notorious for bending the rules to entice star athletes to their alma maters. If this rule change takes some of the power away from boosters, that’s a good thing.
If the rule change leads to even more sensible compensation for college athletes, that would be a good thing, too.
Big-time colleges — not all of them, but many of them — make big-time money off their athletes.
If college sports is such an essential part of their financial well-being, the people on whose backs they are riding should be treated better than they are.
The NCAA made a wise business decision this week, one that hopefully leads to even more sensible reforms to compensate the kids who help the home team win.