On paying college athletes, no.

By ann summers


I tend to watch college sports on television because the promotional video for the institution usually shown around halftime is more interesting in terms of representing the institutional identity. But they are representations that are at risk like the current scandal involving a significant number of major US university athletic programs.

Paying college students because they don’t share in any of the profits always comes up even as it is irrelevant to the ethical and moral actions that must occur at the institutional level, and even before addressing some illusion of fairness made more complex by issues of race/class/gender.

The topic of paying college athletes is only one aspect of an entire exploitative process that should be completely revised to regulate what has become a pernicious, yet historical corruption of sports and capitalism. This has emerged again in the midst of a wide ranging scandal driven by corporations yet aided by significant elements of major universities.

The fundamental and perennial problem in proposing the paying of student-athletes is that the non-academic activity as extra-curricular makes one not a student by definition.

No student should be paid for athletic performance. Period. Because there is a difference between professional and amateurs that is the difference between the avocational and the vocational. Media contracts and sporting goods manufacturers should not determine those distinctions, however lucrative.

But that’s OK, many who major in the arts consider in the college context the utterance of the non-artistic activities as “academic” as though what they did creatively was somehow non-academic or extracurricular. Some scientists love talking about all non-science as somehow recreational, so ignorance has no SAT score, even as those who talk about hard and soft sciences are really talking about penises.

The real problem lies in Division One (D-I) and D-II corruption in scholarship money and corporate sponsorships, plus the interference of boosters/alumni, and the natural corruption of the schools themselves because of their administrations’ desire to use conventional “for-profit” practices in a non-profit enterprise.

The designation of “student-athletes” is a joke: just make college athletics all D-III rules with no scholarships connected to athletics, force support into financial aid packages unconnected to athletic performance.

Everyone who goes to college gets to be a student-athlete. Support them because they’re there to learn.

Meritocracy for athletic performance should be reserved for the world outside college, even as universities have been the development platform for so many professional athletes.

Recruitment for admission should become less competitive relative to athletics because we’ve reached the tipping point where ad hoc sex work becomes a tool for the admissions office.

Yes there is a history and even a historical legacy of corruption with massive violations ranging from the hiring of relatives, the procuring of loans, houses, actual cash transfers. This should end if only because the system has become witheringly corrupt — see Michigan State U. and gymnastics, or Penn State and football.

The revenue generating nature of some university sports prefers some over others with the need to generate revenue-sharing to support the “non-revenue” generating sports, and yet it makes the NCAA complicit in governance creep.

Compliance and penalties makes legal work the profit center for effects that are not about programs but naming rights and other ancillary enterprises remote from the actual educational missions.

Proposing payment of student athletes on the model of student employees or even graduate assistants is simply unworkable considering the difference between for example, working in the cafeteria and one-and-done first year D-1 basketball talent.

Excuses about meal money and perks are just the surface of an entire compliance / violation structure that needs to be reformed, even as there are entire generations used to the endless violation culture of corrupting every aspect of the institution, most egregious being the academic violations.

Hence the differences between the enforcement structure’s contradictions of student-transfer rules to other institutions versus the scofflaw-coaches who have no such embargoes on their quitting and rehiring at other schools.

Eligibility has already been corrupted by other variance issues like giving some athletes graduate-transfer status without sitting out.

Further complications come from individual university rules, conference rules, state rules, and the public-private institutional divide.

There are simple regulatory solutions, despite all that lawfare keeping attorneys and sports agents employed. Recognizing the minor league development role of universities would go a long way to getting past the professional/amateur ambiguities.

And then there’s the current crisis, driven by shoe companies Adidas being the first to get caught corrupting assistant coaches and the awareness of coaches and athletic departments, Post-Paterno.

Those who want professional status and the payday get to defer their education or even ignore it, since the corporations have already corrupted program support structures.

Separate out the pre-professionals before college in the “revenue sports”, leaving the remainder to serve until their degree programs are completed. Considering that recruitment goes down to the middle school should have already signaled the need for change. All that corporate corruption money should go into national team development in sports no different than the models for the Olympic teams. Use the NCAA to manage amateur drafts in all fields (including the Olympic teams); it can recover its regulatory function even as it has become corrupted by BCS and March Madness.

Corporations and all those affiliated alumni boosters would contribute to non contingent budgets with event revenue completely autonomous from athletic departments rather than the money-laundering that currently occurs.

The problems exists in the BS ideology of assuming free-market principles in a cartelized economy where the very small number of actual professional athletes in a few sports should not dictate the opportunities for the majority.

Otherwise, the University of Phoenix should really have a football team for its stadium, because once it’s pay for play, all bets are on, and academic departments for gaming industry wagering (a sub-field for Hospitality Studies) will have the highest paid faculty.


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2 Responses to On paying college athletes, no.

  1. rafflaw says:

    While I agree that the “system” has been corrupted by mostly the large FCS institutions, I disagree that the scholarship system used in D-III should be used for all schools. Those schools have been known to give out academic scholarships to athletes that may not have the same academic performance as other non-athletic students. Police the system and upgrade it to reality. If you remove the shoe companies and other organizations and companies trying to control the athletes and throw money around, you may be able to resurrect the system. The NCAA should be the entity to control the system, but they too have to be cleaned out.

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