Taylor Branch and John Lombardi debated the NCAA’s amateurism standard and it was kind of a mess.
I confess that I find Branch, just like I do anybody who likens the elite college athlete’s situation to that of plantation life, a little overwrought on the subject. But this analogy he strikes falls flat.
“Students have no stake in their own enterprise, they have no voice, they can’t vote,” he told the crowd of a few dozen people gathered in a conference room a mile or so from the White House. More importantly, he argued, elite players deserve to be compensated for their 40 to 60 hours a week of unpaid labor.
“Imagine telling a student they couldn’t start a small business to pay their way through college. Or they can’t start Facebook,” he said. “We would never dream of applying the same rules to those students.”
College football amateurism isn’t about kids being prevented from becoming entrepreneurs – at least not in the context of what Branch is talking about, which is being compensated for their labors. Now if he were applying this to the NCAA’s refusal to let student-athletes profit from the use of their names while allowing schools to do just that, he’d have something.
Lombardi was hardly better, even though he was attempting to make a point I agree with.
Lombardi doesn’t entirely tow the NCAA line. For example, he thinks athletes should be allowed to go pro whenever they want. “Why restrict it, why slow it down?” he asked. “Why is it our business to interfere in that business? Explore and go out and be the best you can be.”
True, athletes should be allowed to turn pro at their own choosing, but that’s not the NCAA’s fault, as Lombardi seems to recognize on second thought.
“I’d be all for making a minor league in football and sending [athletes] all over there, but football’s not interested in that,” he said.
I assume when he says “football” he means the NFL. And he’s right, of course. The pros have it good – no development costs, no marketing costs and seemingly no blame for the consequences of restricting player access. Would that the Taylor Branches of the world yelled about that now and then.
But it would also be nice if the John Lombardis would qualify comments like “It’s true it’s a big struggle to maintain amateurism because everybody wants to make a buck off these big-time student-athletes…” by noting that the only ones expressly forbidden from acting upon that are the big-time student athletes themselves, pursuant to NCAA guidelines.