I’ve never been a big fan of Andrew Zimbalist, so if there’s a part of something he’s authored that resonates with me… well, you read this:
Today, “pay for play” refers to compensating an athlete as an employee. Before 1957, it meant awarding athletic scholarships. That year, the NCAA coined and mandated the term “student athlete” as part of an effort to protect itself from workers’ compensation claims.
As college sports grew and became less a campus extracurricular than a lucrative business enterprise, programs complained about and violated rules so often that the NCAA took step after step away from its original notion of amateurism, allowing athletic scholarships in 1948 and termination of financial aid if a student stopped playing in 1967, permitting coverage of educational expenses in 1957, and prohibiting multiyear scholarships in 1973.
One thing you can say about that trend is that it doesn’t favor the player. The context makes it hard to disagree with his argument.
“In short, amateurism in intercollegiate athletics is whatever the NCAA says it is,” reads the report, written by Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College, and Allen Sack, president of the Drake Group, which advocates for academic integrity and greater balance in college athletics. “The NCAA maintains its own, idiosyncratic, changing, frequently arbitrary, and often illogical definition of amateurism. NCAA restrictions on college athletes’ free participation in the lucrative market for their images, likenesses and names are obviously not necessary to uphold the principles of amateurism, which are constantly changing to meet industry needs.”
When students become athletes, they sign an agreement with the NCAA that essentially gives the association ownership over their names and images. The NCAA and video game companies can profit from using photos of the athletes or images that strongly resemble them for as long as they like, and the athletes never see a penny.
Sack, a professor of sport management at the University of New Haven, said that to share this revenue with athletes “is no more a violation of amateurism than paying for their educations, or conditioning the renewal of their scholarships each year on athletic performance.”
Compare that with the NCAA’s official position on O’Bannon, which is that it doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
“Amateurism is what separates college sports from pro sports, and the NCAA membership has decided that those who participate in intercollegiate athletics should be students first and not paid professional athletes,” he said. “The NCAA does not limit how a student-athlete takes advantage of his or her likeness after college.”
That’s some impressive smoke blowing there.