Yesterday’s post about amateurism drew a lot of impassioned commentary in support of Bob Bowlsby’s argument that equal effort by student-athletes requires equal treatment by the schools and the NCAA. The best example of that:
FYI, I asked multiple womens golfers from 16 of the top 25 teams @ a tournament in Hilton Head, SC last month how much time they practice & spend competing. Every one said 4-5 hours a day 7 days a week except when playing in a tournament. Last week, I ran into the U of Illinois womens golf team @ my neighborhood course practicing after competing in a tournament the prior 3 days. This was during spring break. Most of these girls were business, psychology, public relations, biology, spanish, early child development, etc majors and were earning good grades. These girls bust their asses for UGA just like the football & basketball players but don’t get the same “star” treatment & bennies. Heck yes the $ from football & basketball should be spread around to support the other sports. I don’t care how much $ the school/AD earns off of any sport. If you are not there for the education via a free scholarship, go earn your keep on your athletic talent in some minor league. Unhappy with the NFL rules, go sue them for the right to earn a job
I don’t doubt the sincerity of that statement. Nor do I doubt the effort that every one of those golfers gives. But even starting with the assumption that each NCAA student-athlete busts as much ass as the next one, ultimately I don’t find the argument convincing. The problem with the argument is that it romanticizes college athletics to an unrealistic extent. The reality is that the playing field for student-athletes isn’t level right now.
First of all, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, equal effort isn’t rewarded equally. I’m guessing that those lady golfers have scholarships from Georgia as a result of Title IX requirements, but their male counterparts (along with other male student-athletes participating in non-revenue sports) don’t fare as well in that department. Again, if it’s all about equal effort, why should that be the case? And taking Bowlsby’s line of reasoning out to its full extent, how can you justify a failure to treat every kid playing Division III sports to the same scholarship opportunities? They work just as hard, right?
The answer is that they don’t make any money for their schools. Hard work only goes so far when it comes to getting a piece of the pie.
Second, it’s a fool’s errand to pretend Emmert and Bowlsby aren’t aware of that. Emmert and the power conference commissioners are pushing a stipend – hell, call that for what it is, player payment – for football and basketball student-athletes. Why are they advocating different treatment for those student-athletes than for the rest of the 400,000+ they claim to represent? Again, it’s not about the effort. It’s about the revenue stream.
Third, the irony of the last two sentences of that comment doesn’t escape me. Those women golfers have an avenue available to them that is denied to the players bringing in the money. They can turn pro any time they want. Indeed, they don’t even have to go to college to pursue a professional golf career if they’re talented enough.
College athletics is hyper-monetized now. Nobody on the management side advocates going back to a simpler time; they can’t afford to. So instead they pitch a bifurcated vision in which they claim the players in revenue producing sports must be insulated from the rewards of their efforts, even as they are forced to make greater sacrifices in the name of revenue generation (you think any of those women golfers have ever had to miss as much school as the kids who played for the national title last night did?) and in which any dollar delivered to those players has to come out of the pockets of the rest of the 400,000 student-athletes in some sort of zero-sum game. Except for that stipend, of course.
Don’t insult my intelligence.
It’s not your father’s status quo anymore. That didn’t just happen overnight, either, in case you haven’t noticed what an absolute cock-up SEC scheduling has become since Mike Slive decided he needed to revisit the conference’s broadcast deals. And here’s the last thing to consider: what you’ve got now is nothing compared to what’s going to happen if and when the NCAA starts losing some of those antitrust suits.
Now, what we think doesn’t matter in the vast scheme of things. But Bob Bowlsby? Different story there. Either the suits need to start smelling what they’re trying to sell to us and adapt to the times, or wait to get run over and lose the opportunity to direct where college athletics goes. In any event, the rest of us had better get used to accepting the limited value of equal effort.