College Sports, Play For Pay?
The NCAA Should Spread The Wealth
Each year as sports fans cheer and enjoy college basketball's March Madness, or the football bowl season I can't help but wonder if it might be time for the NCAA to redistribute the wealth and start sharing some of it with the workers "student athletes"(wink-wink) that make it all possible. I recall a former high-profile college athlete telling me the story about once having to borrow money from a friend to pay for a meal at a fast food restaurant. Then as they walked down the street, they passed a sporting goods store. In the window was a replica of his jersey with his name and number on it selling for 75 dollars. It was at this point he decided to leave school and declare himself for the professional draft. With the exception of him and his teammates everyone around the program was making big money. Coaches, administrators, and even ticket scalpers were cashing in. Sure he was getting a full scholarship but that is a small drop in the bucket when you consider how much revenue is generated by the athletic department. So we continue to have a problem here that will not soon go away until it is directly addressed. The efforts by a group of student/athletes and their attorney's at Northwestern University is the latest step at attempting to solve this problem. The Northwestern group has presented the situation to the National Labor Relations Board and suggested that college athletes should be looked upon as employees of the universities and should be paid accordingly. Of course college administrators take issue with that notion, claiming student/athletes participate at their own free will and are compensated by receiving a full scholarship. They also are quick to point out that if student athletes start getting paid as employees how would it be determined who gets paid what? In other words does the female star field hockey player get paid the same as the star quarterback? Good questions and certainly ones that would need to be addressed. However, at some point and it is probably not too far down the road the NCAA will be forced to reconsider how it makes and spends it's money. And also take another look at it's relationship with it's student athletes of both genders. Here are some suggestions that I believe should be a part of the conversation.
- Make the full ride athletic scholarship open ended.
Athletes are recruited and told that the school cares about them getting an education. If that is true then if the athlete does not complete his/or her studies in 4 years. They should be allowed to come back at anytime during their lives and complete their degrees.
- Allow athletes to make money off merchandising and advertising
When a school produces a replica jersey using the name and number of a player the student/athlete should get a percentage of the revenue generated by it's sales.
Also consider paying athletes a fee similar to what coaches are sometimes paid for appearing in commercials and at alumni events.
- Have a healthcare plan that follows an injured athlete throughout his/her life.
I have heard horror stories about athletes who get injured in college and have to deal with health costs long after their playing days are over.
- Develop a Student/Athlete Cooperative.
Each Athletic Department would create and administer and office designed to monitor compliance to all newly formed initiatives.
These are suggestions to simply start a conversation about economic equity and redistributing the vast wealth of college sports. Although some may think of these ideas as being extremely radical I contend they may be ideas who's time has come. If not to implement certainly to consider. The young men at Northwestern and their attorneys should be commended for their efforts at bringing attention to the disparity, unfairness and continued hypocrisy that the NCAA has long perpetrated.
In recent years amateur sports in particular the NCAA has been rocked repeatedly by scandal usually caused by illegal under the table payments to players. The root cause of these violations is athletes generally do not have enough money to often times sustain themselves on a day-to-day basis. The current system creates an environment which makes cheating and breaking the rules very easy, practical and in some institutions expected. The NCAA has had it's head in the sand about this matter for decades and it may now be time to face it head on. If not widespread cheating will continue to be the front and center of the college landscape. The time for action is NOW.
Students Athletes Interested Unionizing