An alert reader passed on this tour de force defense of what currently passes for amateurism, suspecting I’d have a reaction. Guess what? He’s right.
It’s not the romance part that gets me. As I’ve said before, been there, done that. If somebody feels in their heart of hearts that players shouldn’t be compensated any more than they already are, more power to him or her. I don’t mind a romantic — just one who finds it convenient to ignore anything you might learn in an Econ 101 class.
Take, for example the juxtaposition of “they’ve never had it so good” here…
The list of perks for being a football player at a big-time program is long and enviable. All the food you can eat. Lodging at what is typically the best dorm on campus. Enough team-issued gear — some recruits will turn spurn an adidas school in favor of a Nike school — to make for quite an extensive wardrobe.
… with, “hey, they’re just like any other college kid” here:
This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard times. Many of these families can’t afford to put money in their sons’ accounts.
It’s not unusual to hear stories about players going hungry on weekends because the cafeteria was closed. Scholarship players aren’t allowed to have jobs during the season, and there’s no time for one anyway.
You know who has similar problems? Pretty much every other student on campus — the ones who can’t run a 4.4 40 or bench press 400 pounds. Practically all college kids are broke. It’s a part of the experience. Find any successful graduate, and he can probably tell you about that month junior year when he lived off ramen noodles.
Which is it, then? And why is any of that relevant in light of an argument — “80,000 fans fill Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturdays in the fall to watch football, not lab experiments.” — that even he concedes is legitimate?
Then there’s the ever-popular, arrogant “eh, if we paid the kids real money, they’d just blow it on video games and weed” argument.
They’re also getting stipends now, supposedly to pay for the cost-of-living expenses not typically covered by a full ride. Laundry money, grocery money, gas money — most of these kids are away from home for the first time. There’s no accounting procedure for that cash, though. Tattoo artists are no doubt grateful.
Yeah, it would be a real shame for them to spend a few of their bucks on tats. It’s far wiser for the folks running the sport to take that money and spend it on Charlie Weis, Larry Scott and Lane Kiffin. The beautiful thing there is denying the first opportunity is what enables the second.
Oh, let’s not discount the free will argument. Nobody’s holding a gun to these kids’ heads, damn it!
If a young man dreams of making it to the NFL, this is the only path. No minor league. No European league. If he doesn’t agree with the college football model, well, nobody is forcing him to fax in that letter of intent.
These are the rules of engagement. A lot of people around them — not just the Sabans of the world — are making a lot of money, but let’s stop comparing college football players to Chinese factory workers. Their scholarships are only becoming more valuable, too. Tuition costs keep going higher. Swag bags keep getting bigger.
“These are the rules of engagement.” Never mind that in the real world, rules are set in the market, while in the college athletic world, they’re imposed by a cartel that doesn’t allow its hired help to obtain counsel to understand those rules, let alone negotiate them.
(By the way, I note with some amusement that Crist has a sad over some schools’ athletic departments losing money. Accepting for the sake of argument the validity of the bookkeeping behind that proposition, who’s forcing them to sign up for that?)
When you can argue — apparently with a straight face — that, at $11 million, Nick Saban is underpaid, but his players aren’t, I’d say you have a strange grasp of economics.
That you firmly believe in the aesthetics that the players get enough as it is as a moral judgment is an opinion with which I may disagree, but I won’t challenge your right to express it. To dress it up with pseudo-economic rationales like silly references to minor-league baseball (is there a minor league set up to earn revenue like the Big Ten or SEC do?) or free clothes (remember, the schools get paid multi-millions by the clothing companies for those clothes), or the tired straw man plantation argument (“Some go so far as to say that they’re a step above slave labor.”), though, is nothing but a dodge. The real issue we should be debating if we’re going to be honest about it is this: would these kids be any worse off if the market determined the value of their services?
Or to put it another way, what’s the economic, as opposed to the emotional, justification for treating student-athletes differently from other students, or, for that matter, any other American seeking to market their skills? If there’s something valid in treating these kids as wards in need of protection, then maybe there’s good reason for the way the NCAA controls their compensation. But I suspect that people who go to the lengths John Crist does to construct a defense of the status quo know deep down inside that it’s just a lot of empty spin to justify their emotions about amateurism.
If you disagree, perhaps you can explain why, if the purity of the college amateur experience is sacrosanct to our enjoyment of the sport, people like Crist can sheepishly defend what exists now, instead of decrying it as a debasement of that ideal. As the old saying goes, you can’t be a little pregnant.
This isn’t a debate I expect to win with some of you. It’s just that I’d like to hear answers to some of these questions from those of you who think there’s something more to this debate than a mere emotional preference.
Because that’s the heart of Crist’s argument when he writes,
I’m not here to tell you that the NCAA operates a perfect system. Even suggesting that it’s fair to student-athletes can be a stretch. But I push back when critics whine that players are being exploited solely for the monetary gain of others.
If someone could make more in a free market setting than he’s allowed to make because a group colludes to limit his compensation and appropriates that difference to its own ends, how is that not exploitation? I’ll hang up and listen to your answers now.