NCAA Amateurism Is an Illusion
The NCAA can't continue to balance commercialism and education
April 2, 2013
For decades, the NCAA has artificially restricted compensation to a labor force generating billions of dollars in revenue—justifying itself by citing the self-imposed definition of "amateurism"—while redirecting profits to athletic departments and sending the free market compensation system underground.
Unfortunately, NCAA amateurism is an illusion, and quite likely an antitrust violation. Former NCAA Executive Director Walter Byars declared, "Amateurism is not a moral issue; it is an economic camouflage for monopoly practice." Now is the time to radically change intercollegiate athletics rather than passively wait for the courts or Congress to address the existing collusive wage fixing.
I propose the following:
1. Student-athletes must be paid the full cost of attendance associated with their institution. Presently, the NCAA imposes an artificial cap for scholarships by restricting them to tuition and fees, room and board, and required books. This limitation is $3,200 less, on average, than the full cost of attendance. While academic scholarships are allowed to provide recipients monies for school supplies, transportation and entertainment, these are denied under athletic scholarships. Additionally, NCAA restrictions on student-athletes' employment precludes students them from closing the gap between athletic scholarships and the full cost of attendance.
2. Create a "Student-Athlete Trust Fund" which would hold a percentage of revenue generated by television and licensing contracts and place it into a trust for student-athletes to access upon the completion of their collegiate careers.
3. Eliminate restrictions on student-athletes' abilities to seek commercial opportunities by permitting endorsement deals or being compensated when entities use their rights of publicity. The money could be held in the "Trust Fund" until graduation, and provide a legal right to any future earnings from profits a school receives from using their image.
4. Form a union to represent student-athletes in these matters, advocating on their behalf with the NCAA, conferences, and institutions.
If, as Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany threatens, the end result of reform is a restriction by many schools on their athletic expenditures and a migration to the Division III model, then all the better. However, to be clear, the argument that the industry needs to deny compensation to the labor force to operate at a profit is disingenuous and illegal, typically proffered by those who benefit directly from a collusive-market system.
Intercollegiate athletics' current position of balancing between commercialism and education is untenable—greed has won. Now is the time for reasoned and meaningful change.