Amateurism has fallen down and it can’t get up.

Instead of gnashing our teeth over players getting paid and strikes for bigger dorm rooms, how come more attention isn’t being paid to how college football got to this point in the first place?  Whatever reality the NCAA’s ideal of amateurism was initially grounded in is long gone.  What’s left is little more than a myth.

If we make sports the embodiment of American ideals, it makes a certain amount of sense, however irrational it is, that we want athletes to focus on something other than money. It would be too uncomfortable to acknowledge that the games we set up as objects of worship are really just a way for us to venerate a few talented people for extracting the highest possible compensation in exchange for their gifts.

But the lie the myth of amateurism lets us tell about college is at least as pernicious as the one it perpetuates about our love of sports. Suggesting that the hours athletes spend training, in practice, in strategy sessions and on the field or court represent just an activity, rather than a job, is a way of trying to shrink the definition of work to a level we are comfortable with…

Athletes are generating revenue for their schools through ticket sales and broadcast fees, while their peers may be simply working for the money to pay for tuition, room and board, and books. But either way, they are participants in a system that makes a lot of money for colleges and universities, even as students spend time working rather than having an idealized and balanced college experience.

Think about all the changes that have occurred across the college athletic landscape in the last half century:  the demise of the four-year scholarship, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, an increase in the length of the regular season, conference championship games, expanded postseasons, the joke that is “voluntary” summer practice, conference realignment and expansion, etc.  What it all adds up to is a relentless march of commercialization as academic institutions look to monetize college athletics as much as possible.

The idea that college administrators, conference commissioners and coaches are free to frolic like Scrooge McDuck in the money while insisting that student-athletes must not take part in receiving the benefits of the revenue stream as well as accepting without question the burdens placed upon them by the powers that be placating the commercial interests creating that stream is quaint at best and remarkably cynical at worst when you realize that the suits running the show are using amateurism as a sales tool to promote college athletics to the public.

That’s how you get Mark Emmert promoting the false dichotomy of “do you want to have college sports played by unionized employees of universities or do you want to have them be college students playing games?” with a straight face.  It’s either players play for love or money – nothing in between.  And he gets away with it because in loving the romance that amateurism represents, we’re willing to be deceived.

The truth is that today, big time college sports are as much a commercial enterprise as any professional sports league.  And until we’re all willing to admit that, nobody on the management side of college athletics is going to take the hard step of looking at what’s really worth preserving and moving to compromise on the rest, for the greater good.


Filed under College Football

27 responses to “Amateurism has fallen down and it can’t get up.

  1. HVL Dawg

    Maybe the folks running the Ivy League are, ya know….smarter….. than everyone…..else……

    • Normaltown Mike

      In what way? I don’t disagree with the assertion, but what do they do in athletics that we ought to consider/pursue?

      • HVL Dawg

        No athletic scholarships. Every player is a walk-on.

        • Always Someone Else's Fault

          Harvard has basketball players on scholarship and competes as a full NCAA member. The football team is FCS, meaning 65 schollies. Many of those students would not otherwise be students at Harvard. No real differences there at all, are there?

          • HVL Dawg

            One of us is wrong and it’s Always Someone Else’s Fault

            “There are no academic or athletic scholarships in the Ivy League. A coach may assist a prospective student-athlete to obtain an estimated financial aid award, however only the Financial Aid Office has the authority to determine financial aid awards and to notify students officially of their actual or estimated awards.”


            • W Cobb Dawg

              One of my best buddies from HS had a football scholly to Princeton, so they must exist in one form or another. Or at least they did 30 years ago when I was graduating HS.

          • Always Someone Else's Fault

            Or maybe we’re both right? If a kid gets accepted as an academic exception for athletic reasons and then receives a financial aid package that covers all of his costs, then I would call that an athletic scholarship.

            A quick review of Ivy League schools on ESPN’s recruiting sites shows players committed, players considering, and players offered. Calling them walk-ons seems a real stretch.

        • Normaltown Mike

          That’s true to an extent. But most often, being an exemplary athlete gets you admission when your grades alone probably wouldn’t. This isn’t a slight on Ivy athletes, they are great students too. But athletics is back door into a school that might be just out of reach for the nondescript student.

          I know this first hand from friends/family that did this to gain admissions to Yale, Harvard, Princeton & Cornell.

          The 2nd factor that makes Ivy League schools unique is that they charge tuition based upon household income. If your family is below the poverty line, your cost of attendance is zero. Costs go up on a sliding scale until you get really high (maybe 200K per year) and you pay the full cost.

          The result is that a smart athlete from a disadvantaged background can get into and attend for free an amazing school.

          • Dawgaholic

            The special considerations are similar to the special considerations given to other students with substantial extra-curricular accomplishments – not the same as many NCAA schools where athletes with minimum scores get in but students with other extracurricular activities need much higher grades.

            • Normaltown Mike

              If you are a kickass dominator at Model UN or mock trial competitions, you won’t have a coach at Harvard or Yale going to the admissions boards saying “we’ve GOT to get this Carlton Banks into school, just look at this speech!”. If you are a kickass lax player, you sure as fire will have a coach doing that.

              And the Ivy athletes are in fact NCAA athletes (as opposed to NAIA like at Berry College). They have all the burdens of the NCAA just as much as our UGA athletes.

              • Dawgoholic

                You may not have a coach going to admissions but that’s because admissions officials themselves give weight to other extracurriculars, but, rightfully so, they rely on their own coaches as to how much weight is given to athletic achievements.

  2. Mark

    You’re stepping on too many people’s golden calf Senator.

  3. The players aren’t dumb. They know the idea of college athletics as pure and untainted by filthy money has been a fairytale for some time now. How could we expect them to buy into that concept anyway, when they have no role models for doing so? Or are we still trying to kid ourselves that Mark Emmert’s implicit “do as I say, not as I do” mantra is tenable for the long term?

    • Normaltown Mike

      Some athletes appear to have been hoodwinked by the NCAA and all this “scholar athlete” mumbo jumbo. They make extreme sacrifices of time, health and a social life for no direct compensation. Someone should tell them it’s not worth it.

  4. 69Dawg

    Has anybody thought that the very fact that the NCAA has allowed the pros to dictate the multiple length of enrollment policies has totally screwed up the “amateur” status argument. I know that the NCAA has no direct way of stopping the NBA from their one and done policy but as far as I know the NCAA has not raised the academic requirements for admission for basketball or created an APR type penalty for basketball that doesn’t excuse a team for a player turning pro. Why is that? Could it be the ungodly amount of money the NCAA makes from March Madness?

  5. reipar

    The really great thing about paying players is a school can choose not only what players they want to pay, but for what programs. A school with the resources could continue to pay their football players nothing, but instead pay their hockey players. As it would be very unlikely many other schools would do this they would have a decided advantage in that sport. If you are an alumni of a wrestling school for instance it would be nice to know a smaller amount of resource (money to play) can have a bigger effect on the programs ability to compete nationally.

  6. tess

    I really don’t see how moving to a “cost of attendance” scholarship model over a “tuition, books, rent” model would ruin college athletics, and would go a long way toward making lives easier for many of these kids. I’m willing to pay an extra $5 per ticket if it means the kids who really want to go home for Thanksgiving can do so.

    And if schools are smart, they’ll get ahead of the game on injuries and medical care. Georgia seems to do a much better job than most of other SEC schools, but as we learn more about brain injuries and the scope of problems they can cause, we need some sort of system in place to help ex-players deal with that, even if UGA isn’t providing the care itself.
    Part of the problem is I’m not sure there’s one solution there–some players might not have issues, some might have depression, some might have CTE-based violent behaviors and/or memory loss–but even a small staff of evaluators who can offer referrals and help pay for the type of support that might be needed down the line, from physical therapy for knees or shoulders to neurologist for brain issues would at least be a start to recognize that Once a Dawg, Always a Dawg is part of our commitment to them.

    • South FL Dawg

      Yes 1000 times. Getting the people who are raking in the money to change anything – and I do mean anything – is the problem.

  7. South FL Dawg

    No argument here. It’s a business. The NCAA might as well be a branch of the NFL and NBA, with some other sports thrown in to scramble the pot.

  8. georgiaboyiii

    The thing about college athletics that I think is being lost, or hidden, or ignored is the “model” that college athletics is set up on. Technically the football program is NOT a part of the university. It is an independent entity set up as a non-profit whose job is to run the football and basketball programs separate from the university. It was set up this way so that the university presidents couldn’t get their hands on the enormous amounts of cash the football teams were/are making. Without anybody paying attention, amateurism was taken out of the equation by the creation of these athletic associations. The athletic association’s sole purpose is to maximize the income potential of the various athletic teams, not promote amateurism.

    Where we are today is we have a semi-professional non-profit that pays the university a fee every year to borrow their logo. As part of the fee this athletic association expects the university to provide room and board for their minions.

    Once we realize this is the model the carpetbaggers have installed, then we can have a meaningful discussion of what college athletics is supposed to be about, until then we will continue to scramble around in the dark.

    • Scorpio Jones, III

      “It was set up this way so that the university presidents couldn’t get their hands on the enormous amounts of cash the football teams were/are making.”

      Which has required a constant battle with gentlemen like the outgoing president of Georgia.

      Thus the Georgia Student Educational Fund became The Hartman Fund, all about keeping the “educators” out of the athletics money.

      Personally I think calling them “carpetbaggers” is both inaccurate and wrong. The people who did this at Georgia were born and bred Georgia people who thought sharing money with the university’s general fund was a bad idea (and I agree).

      The University does not provide anything for scholarship athletes “for free”, the Athletic Association, through the Hartman Fund or with endowed scholarships pays the University the full cost of each athletic scholarship, plus room and board.

      • georgiaboyiii

        I use the term carpetbaggers loosely to describe a “group of moneygrubbers” not necessarily a bunch of yankees selling us a bag of goods. And I understand that the Hartman fund pays the tuition/board bill. But if we have a $100,000,000.00 go into the fund does 20% go to the student/athletes? Does 20% go back to the school? We spend more money on our coach than we spend in tuition and board for all of the athletes combined. What does that say about the “model” we work under? And believe me I understand about keeping the money away from past presidents, that was a worthy goal. My argument is that when you make a deal with the devil, you get what you deserve, not necessarily what you intended. The more you sweep the details under the carpet, the harder it is to run the vacuum over the rug. I think our vacuum cleaner is just about broken.

        • Scorpio Jones, III

          “We spend more money on our coach than we spend in tuition and board for all of the athletes combined.”

          Show us some numbers…or is this another “carpetbagger” euphemism.

          In your particular example, who is the devil?

          • georgiaboyiii

            Well, just a little deduction from the top of my head as to numbers, but I think I remember some quotes the Senator put on here not too long ago that it cost about $8,000+ per year per college athlete so I multiplied that by 85 scholarship athletes which comes out to significantly less than $4,000,000. but I could be wrong. I’ll agree with you that those could be “carpetbagger” numbers. But isn’t it ultimately yours and my fault for not paying attention to the numbers. Whose the devil? if not Mark Emmert then maybe ourselves. I mean we all wanted more access, more games on T.V., etc., etc.

      • Dog in Fla

        “people who thought sharing money with the university’s general fund was a bad idea (and I agree).”

        Because, in Florida, that’s what the $2 scratch-off is for

  9. Dog in Fla

    “That’s how you get Mark Emmert promoting the false dichotomy of ‘do you want to have college sports played by unionized employees of universities or do you want to have them be college students playing games?’ with a straight face.”

    Mark, whose hair is fabulous, gets his dichotomized talking points from the bald guy