By Teresa Welsh |
Advocates of paying college athletes need to explain (a) how the labor market for players would function, (b) how the Division I colleges could afford this expense when the median DI athletics program loses $11 million a year on an operating basis and much more when capital and indirect costs are included, (c) how the new system would impact college culture, and (d) what would happen to the branding of intercollegiate athletics that tens of millions of fans have come to love.
For its part, the NCAA has to come to terms with the fact that it has applied an arbitrary, morphing, and overly restrictive definition of amateurism, the outcome of which is that student-athletes are unnecessarily manipulated and exploited. Until the 1940s, the NCAA defined amateurism like the rest of us: An amateur (the word means lover) is someone who engages in an activity for fun, not remuneration. A scholarship was seen an extrinsic inducement and not compatible with amateurism.
After the 1940s, what the NCAA allowed to be included in a scholarship was changed every few years. In 1973, the NCAA restricted scholarships to one year at a time, meaning that a coach could revoke a player's scholarship if he or she wasn't performing well on the field, regardless of how well they performed in the classroom. More recently, the NCAA has allowed athletes on winning teams to receive gifts worth hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars.
Now in dispute is the claim of former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon. His team won the national basketball championship back in 1995. Through its Collegiate Licensing Company, the NCAA licenses the right to Electronic Arts to produce a video game of the 1995 team, using the images and likenesses of its players. Not a penny of the licensing income is shared with these players. Current and former college players also have their names, images and likenesses used in a variety of other commercial forms: Jerseys, photos, bobbleheads, replay of old games, play footage for ads, etc. They don't get paid.
The O'Bannon suit argues that the former student-athletes are no longer amateurs and should be compensated for the exploitation of their publicity rights. It also claims that current student-athletes should have money put into trust funds for their subsequent use.
These claims make perfect sense, and with the reduction of pervasive waste, inefficiencies and unjust enrichment of coaches and administrators, there would be more than enough money to go around.
About Andrew Zimbalist Professor of Economics at Smith College
Brian Frederick Board Member of Sports Fans Coalition
Bobby Rush Democratic Representative from Illinois
Richard Burton Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University