Does amateurism in defense of academics make any sense?

You tell me.

According to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, between 70 and 80 percent of college students are active in the labor market. Roughly 40 percent of undergraduates work at least 30 hours a week, while 25 percent of all students enrolled on a full-time basis also work full time. Some of those employees—a cohort that once included yours truly, who worked at the Georgetown bookstore—even get paid for campus jobs.

The NCAA’s member schools don’t prohibit any of those students from making money. Because that would be utterly ridiculous. Why, Grenardo asks, are athletes treated differently? Because they’re especially good at catching footballs?

During the O’Bannon trial, Stanford University athletic director and amateurism advocate Bernard Muir was questioned by players’ attorney Renae Steiner about computer-science students at his school earning income from software they developed in class, a pretty fair analogue for playing revenue sports. It did not go well:

Steiner: “Are you aware that some of those students at Stanford were making $3,000 a day on their apps?”

Muir: “[I] was not aware of that.”

Steiner: “And they were making more than the professor teaching them in that class?”

Muir: “Okay. I will take your word for it.”

Steiner: “Okay. Do you know if those students are no longer integrated into the academic community at Stanford?”

Muir: “I would assume that they are.”

“It’s crazy, the idea that if we put $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 into the pockets of these athletes who don’t have a lot of money, who knows what they will do with it,” Grenardo says. “Even at my law school, some of my students have better cars than me. Nobody says about kids who are affluent, ‘Oh my God, we need to rein this in.'”

Last year, Emmert took his employer’s logic to its dopiest possible conclusion and claimed that paying college athletes would make them no longer students at all, presumably because simultaneously (a) playing campus sports, (b) being paid for playing that sport, and (c) being a college student would require a heretofore unknown quantum state.

Push come to shove, and even the NCAA isn’t buying what Emmert’s shoveling.

Does the college sports establishment even believe its own malarkey? Not entirely. University of Notre Dame president John Jenkins told the New York Times that permitting player pay would be an “Armageddon” that “does some violence to [the] educational relationship” between athletes and their schools—but school athletic director Jack Swarbrick told VICE Sports at a campus sports reform meeting in Washington, D.C., that he doesn’t think there’s a link between amateurism and education. The NCAA touted education as its raison d’être in the O’Bannon case, but responded to McCants and Ramsay’s lawsuit over the North Carolina scandal by arguing in federal court that it has no legal duty to make sure said education is actually delivered.

“This is the underlying lie of the NCAA,” says Michael Hausfeld, the Washington, D.C.-based antitrust attorney who headed the O’Bannon case and is also the lead litigator on McCants and Ramsay’s suit. “Up until we filed the North Carolina case, you had the NCAA saying they are there for the welfare of athletes as students. Now they say they have nothing to do with that. You can’t be more of a hypocrite.”

Eh, I don’t know about that.



Filed under Academics? Academics., The NCAA

29 responses to “Does amateurism in defense of academics make any sense?

  1. Wouldn’t a reasonable retort (not that the powers to be are capable) be: if we let scholarship athletes get jobs they’ll be “working” at Ed Tom’s oil rig in suburban Norman sitting on their ass making $200 an hour?

    If the rejoinder to that is, well, the NCAA can regulate “market rates”, integrity and ensure that work is actually earned etc… Well, no they can’t.

    Oregon players could be paid $10,000 a month as “shoe/clothing design consultants” and Phil Knight would be happy to pay it.

    One can only imagine what the folks at Auburn would do with that foot of rope.

    It does SEEM like an irrational policy but behind most “unnecessary rules and regulations and red tape”, there’s an underlying logic there even if the enforcers are too dumb to explain them.

    The essential difference is that Stanford isn’t going to offer no work, high paying jobs to promising undergrads to keep them from enrolling at Michigan. If you think the same conditions exist when Auburn and Alabama are fighting over a 5 star OLB from Prattville then you’re out of your damn mind.


    • JCDAWG83

      Most NCAA rules are the result of past abuses not any hatred of athletes or desire to keep them poor. I can guarantee if it were OK for athletes to have jobs there would be wealthy alumni and coaches who would make sure star players got “jobs” that paid very well for doing very little if any work. Any school that could afford to do it or had alumni willing to do it would do it, even Stanford and Notre Dame and all the other schools everyone thinks are paragons of virtue.


      • mp

        Why do I care if Phil Knight wants to pay someone $10000 a month to do nothing but make sure they are an Oregon Duck? I’d like that job, too.

        Yes, there is some room for abuses, but if the players are afforded the right to representation to make sure they are aware of what it means to enter into a contract with Nike (unlike their ability to consult with a lawyer about the contract they enter with their school), that seems like a win for the players.

        Where I think the NCAA member institutions are falling down in thinking about “paying players” is thinking that it has to come out of the schools’ coffers. If they want to make Kessler go away, remove the prohibition on 3rd parties paying and you will have created a way for the players to get paid for the likenesses, which would create more of a windfall for the players than what the schools would cough up. And, it would avoid the Title IX prohibitions (if Joe Bob doesn’t want to pay women’s softball players, he doesn’t have to). I also agree that even Stanford could get enough of its billionaire alumni who have Palo Alto businesses to figure that out.

        At the end of the day, a 5 star from Prattville is going to weigh the benefits of the short-term higher money from Oregon versus the opportunity to stay closer to home and play for Saban.


        • If you think the benefits of playing for Saban are greater than a 120k a year no work job, then you need new advisors. If you think alabama wouldn’t match or exceed Phil’s offer because they are aware of how little sway “play for Saban” has as compared to 10k a month you’re fooling yourself. If you think alabama could stand pat and beat Oregon in three years under those conditions you’re a lunatic. I could coach a team that could beat sabans if I could pay and he couldn’t/wouldn’t.


          • mp

            Hardly. Why wouldn’t/couldn’t Alabama boosters pay? They would be operating under the same (transparent) rules

            My point was that if the offer from Oregon was $10k per month versus $7k per month for Alabama, then the player is forced to make some value judgement. It is worth something more to play for Saban versus Willie Taggert. Let the player decide what that amount is. Remember the handwringing about Auburn having a bigger stipend than Georgia? Hasn’t seemed to help in recruiting the last couple years.

            But, even more importantly, if the only thing that really mattered to the player is the money and if it’s a player that Saban really wanted, UA boosters would up the offer. Sure seems better for the player.


            • It seems to me you want to go full professional. If that’s the case that’s your opinion and it stinks. Colleges shouldn’t be running a professional sports league.


    • Charlottedawg

      My response to that is “so what?”. If some booster wants to offer a player/ recruit $200/ hour summer job doing nothing then that means said booster has determined that is monetary value of said players services, albeit services on the football field. It’s a privately negotiated arrangement between two consenting parties and the positive and negative consequences of said arrangement do not bleed out to any party (i.e. the employer and employee) that isn’t choosing to engage in this transaction. I see no reason why an outside organization (the ncaa) needs to impose barriers to said voluntary transaction.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The so what is that games will be decided by which schools have the boosters with the highest paying no work jobs. This is less than the “spirit” of fair competition ain’t it? It’s ultimately detrimental to the sport.

        Seems obvious except to the oblivious.

        Should we buy Brazilian soccer players to play on the national team? Can we buy Kenyan runners for the Olympics? Can Russian oligarchs buy Durant, James, Curry, Westbrook etc.. and kick the shit out of out Olympic BB team because “market?” Are there any principles that ever outweigh the market or is the market a good in and of itself? In other words, is it right because someone’s willing to pay for it?


        • mp

          What principles? The best programs get the best talent, year in and year out. The same ~10 programs compete and win championships year in and year out. I think you’re being a bit pollyanna-ish.

          YES, countries do entice athletes to play for their national teams. Do you know that there are members of the US National Soccer team were born outside the US? Countries expedite citizenship to make them eligible.


          • Unlike your example Labron James was born in Akron, OH. I’m not talking about people with dual citizenship.

            As I said about if you want colleges to run pro sports leagues fine, but I don’t think you’ll get a lot of agreement on that from anyone.


            • mp

              But if LeBron wants to play for Russia and Russia wants to pay him all the money to do so, all he needs is to become a dual citizen, which Russia would happily allow. That system exists today and is widely used. That’s all I was saying.

              The only thing that separates major college sports from pro sports today is the players getting paid. Everyone else is getting rich. For those who like everything else about this sport except for the idea that athletes could move to a world where they can get paid a market wage, that means they’re fine with all the other hypocrisy.

              I see your comment down below that you would like a system where SA’s are regular students who could get admitted on their own merits – but that’s just as big a departure from the status quo as is mine of letting SA’s get paid. Either way you’re tearing down what major college sports are now (intramurals don’t derive the same TV revenue). Between those two options, I vote for the option would financially help a greater number of kids who are currently exploited. Others may not, of course.


  2. Let the market decide what a player is worth. It works in every other labor market including professional sports. Right now, we have a distorted market where in addition to the value of the scholarship, athletes get perks that I would imagine they would rather have the cash.

    Burn it down, Kessler, burn it down.


    • JCDAWG83

      I agree market forces are needed. The first, best step in this would be to remove the absurd rule that athletes of legal age are prohibited from being hired by companies that sell the athletes services to the public. If an 18 year old is good enough to sell his athletic services to a college as an employee of the football team, he should be free to sell his services to a pro football team.

      The biggest constraint on the free market as it pertains to football and basketball players is the arbitrary rule that does not allow adults to enter their chosen field even though they possess the necessary skills to perform the job. The simplest way to correct this injustice is for colleges to required athletes to be admitted to the school before they can receive an athletic scholarship and give no preference to athletes over any other student. If the schools did this, they would have no reasonable argument against athletes having jobs since the athletes would be no different than any other student with a music, academic, etc. scholarship.


      • The first, best step in this would be to remove the absurd rule that athletes of legal age are prohibited from being hired by companies that sell the athletes services to the public.

        That “rule” is a contract negotiated between the pro league and its players association, which means it doesn’t violate any laws. Courts, as a matter of fact, have enforced it. How, then, would you go about removing it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • The NCAA can’t do anything about the pro-leagues rules. What it can do is quit accepting kids who have little or no chance of progressing academically and allowing them to skate through school taking a less than rigorous academic course.

          When the kids who can’t read but can play start falling through the cracks, the NBA and NFL will find a way. So long as the colleges are willing to train and baby sit those kids at no cost to them there’s no reason to change. That’s what can be controlled. Play football and basketball with college students and they can decide for themselves what they want to do.

          The choice to shepherd kids who make it known that college is an unfortunate inconvenience on the way to their chosen profession is just that: a choice. It needs to end. The complaints of unfairness and that of a plantation, both fair criticisms btw, will cease.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Normaltown Mike

            this is the reality that the NCAA doesn’t want to recognize. If the entrance requirements for athletes are in line with the school, then they can more honestly argue about the student athletes and the merits of the system.


          • ASEF

            During the height of the UNC scandal, I got into some long and heated discussions with people who seemed to operate under the impression that a majority of revenue sport rosters are built on academic exceptions who struggle to read or write. It was a mish-mash of stereotypes that proved difficult to unravel.

            I taught English at the community college level, and most of the students in my classrooms would not have met minimum NCAA eligibility requirements. All of them were entirely capable of college level course work at a research university. Education at any level is mostly perspiration – which comes down to stamina (which is driven almost entirely by confidence) and experience. What community college students tend to lack most is confidence. That, in turn, slows down their learning curves considerably. The gap between a C-student and an A-student isn’t IQ, and it’s a hell of a lot smaller than we’d like to think. For most students over the course of a semester, it’s the belief that investing an extra hour per week per class will yield results. That’s the light bulb. But it’s elusive, because for some incredibly stupid reasons, we don’t discuss those realities explicitly. We typically do it in idioms and metaphors, and if you look underneath those language structures, you can see some pretty insidious socio-economic coding.

            Long story short, there’s an incredibly virulent strain of a “you don’t belong here” theme encoded into academic conventions. When you step back from them, most of those conventions are of the “you used a salad fork for your appetizer, you pathetic imbecile” nature – but they get expressed in terms of “IQ” and “character.” That’s the insidious bait-and-switch. And I’m continually stunned at how deeply some kids have internalized it by the time they complete high school.

            Those of us who went to State Research U. also tend to internalize it, because it kind of feels good to think we’re “smarter” than the average Joe. But there’s a hell of lot of bovine fertilizer invested in those assumptions.


            • Debby Balcer

              +1 Malcolm Mitchell would not have been accepted if the rules Derek want existed and his success has shown what determination and support can do for a student. Most of the posters here would probably find it more difficult to get into UGA then when they attended. Hope scholarship has made entrance to UGA harder to obtain.


            • I’m not trying to be insensitive to what you are saying. I agree that a lot of kids get left behind by bad parenting and bad schools. I don’t doubt for a second that there are kids who could, under the right circumstances, enroll as full students at UGA who are only there because they can ball because of their actual circumstances. In short, we are wasting a ton of our citizen’s talents and that’;s unfortunate. I don’t think college sports fix it.

              My concerns are:

              1) kids who have talent don’t think they need to achieve academically because they know that the standards are brought to their level not the other way around. If in order to play football at UGA you had to get in school like everyone else, I think kids would apply themselves academically. I think the parents of these kids would insist that the schools be in a position help in that goal. I think the parents would be more involved in that. When you know playing ball=free college, why do more?

              2) i don’t trust the colleges to give a rat’s ass about the kid’s education. They just want to win games. This leads to an unfortunate exploitation of the kid where they shelter these kids, do the work for them or any and everything we’ve heard about at Auburn, UNC, UT and even Harrick Jr.’s BB class and Jan Kemp.

              The idea that college sports is capable of solving the concerns you express simply becomes another excuse not to address them.


              • ASEF

                I’ll use my kid as an example.

                He went to an elementary school ranked in the top 10 schools in NC. Not top 10 elementary schools. Top 10 period. My wife and I both have MA’s. Our house is a library. He had every advantage.

                When he left at the end of 5th grade, he won all sorts of academic awards. He was testing in the 95+ percentiles.

                He really started to struggle in middle school, and by the end of 9th grade, he was beginning to give up. He’s also really good at sports, and as his parents, we began to hit the panic button when he started internalizing those “dumb jock” stereotypes. Fortunately, he came to us.

                We did an extensive battery of tests, and it turns out he has a learning disability. Without laying out the $2,000, we would never have known. And in 4 months, he’s gone from “school sucks” to “dang, I’m pretty good at this.”

                I also don’t trust schools, but more because schools have proven too lazy to put in the necessary support structures to help students whose professors don’t give a crap about their sports schedule and whose conferences don’t give a crap about their academic schedules. I honestly have no problem with athletes getting paid, but to me, that focus puts the interests of the AJ Greens (about 1%) ahead of the realities of the other 99% of college athletes struggling to adjust to college.

                From my perspective, neither problem has anything to do with who they are accepting. It has everything to do with a failure to accommodate the needs of students athletes after they’ve signed the LOI and shown up for their first practice.

                The NCAA could mandate that student support structures include per capita trained learning specialists – people with MAs in ED who specialize in helping students learn how to fish instead of fishing for them. The real scandal in the UNC case was the woeful inadequacy of the support structures to help student athletes, an inadequacy a secretary in the AfAm department tried to fix on her own. But even with the AfAm majors in the revenue sports, those courses were at most 10% of their total academic work load. Horrible and unacceptable, but hardly a scenario where athletes never went to class or did no work. Again – the courses provided a small margin (in a completely unacceptable way, in case that message is getting lost).

                The number of local kids who spend their high school careers earning an athletic scholarship and who are back home in a year is kind of ridiculous. I’d rather see schools like Gardner Webb and Mars Hill held to a higher standard on how they support and treat athletes than students like Malcolm Mitchell turned away at the door.


                • I’m all for that if you also give the opportunity to kids who can’t play football. Once you do that, then we’re without disagreement.

                  Whether it’s fair or not, some kids get into Harvard and most don’t. There are lines. Maybe some of them are arbitrary and unfair. Among those lines should not be: how well do you play basketball? If that’s an issue it should be to decide whether to take a kid with a 1300 who can’t play over a kid with a 1280 sat who can, not allowing in a kid who made 800 because he has a 46 inch vertical.


            • JCDAWG83

              The issue to me is; why is college even a consideration for someone who wants to be a pro football or basketball player and is good enough to do that? If I’m the greatest natural music talent in my area and I’m good enough to become a professional musician and earn a living from performing, there is no music industry rule that says I cannot be paid to perform until I’m 21 or one complete year out of high school. The same holds true for being a welder, mechanic, stock broker, real estate agent, even a doctor or lawyer if I can complete the required course work and pass the certification tests As long as I’m 18 and mentally competent to sign a contract, I can sign with a label and start making a living recording music or go to work in any field I desire. For that matter, I can do the same thing if I am a great baseball player or tennis player or golfer or soccer player or gymnast, really anything other than being a football or basketball player. I know the senator will dredge up the “it’s legal because it’s part of union contract” thing but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t force colleges to lower their admissions to admit great football and basketball athletes so they can audition for the NFL and NBA.

              Why should colleges lower entrance requirements for athletes in two sports in order to enable two pro sports leagues to continue to restrict opportunities for 18 year old athletes? If a kid wants a college education AND to play college football, fine, let him study hard in high school, apply to and be accepted to a college of his choice and then play football and possibly be awarded a scholarship to cover the cost of college because he is a good enough football player.

              If the colleges did away with the lower entrance requirements it wood, for the most part, render the unfair NFL and NBA rules moot. They could stand on their rules and watch as some of the best talent coming out of high school had to sit around for a couple years getting soft and regressing at their sport while they worked a job to support themselves before the pro leagues drafted them or; they would do what the market dictated and create a farm system or expand training rosters so they could sign these great athletes to their pro teams and pay them to play the game.


        • Normaltown Mike

          The Clarett case was the perfect opportunity to attack the rule on age discrimination and the judge (wrongly IMO) ruled for the NFL.


          • I don’t remember if Clarett also sued the NFLPA. The NFL is a closed shop from a union rule standpoint. You pretty much can’t be employed unless you meet the eligibility rules for union membership. I think that’s the case for all of the major team sports in the US.


        • JCDAWG83

          The pro contracts aren’t binding in any way on the colleges or NCAA. Let the colleges stop giving special entrance requirements to football and basketball players and see what the NFL and NBA do. The NCAA is enabling the absurd treatment of young adults who happen to want to be professional football and basketball players. See my comment below.


    • junkyardawg41

      Hmmmm — there is this thing called minimum wage. The market has been forced to pay above what they think some jobs are worth. Not sure the labor market by definition “works” in every market.


      • Many economists also think the minimum wage has caused more unemployment because the government has said all jobs should be paid a certain amount per hour. The market still reacts and corrects to market distortion like the minimum wage. So, yes, the market works when it’s allowed to work.


  3. 69Dawg

    Sometime in the distant past the NCAA and it’s members decided that they want the University of New Mexico to be on a level playing field with Alabama. So in their way of thinking the best and only way to do this legally is through their control of the athlete’s eligibility to play the sport. They could have made it simple and gone Division III with no scholarships but that was too honest and only the Ivy League would do something like that. Besides the rogue schools could just give the players academic scholarships and achieved the same results. So they decided that they would create a special class of student, the “student-athlete”. They would allow the schools to drop their admission standards, if they so desired, to a ridiculous NCAA standard in order to get the best “student-athlete”. They would create rules so asinine and confusing that it made the job of following them a full time job for at least one lawyer. This was all done in the first place so that the schools could play sports that would prompt pride in their alumni base and get them to contribute to the school. Then came the NCAA v UGA/OU case and the NCAA lost control of the marketing of football. Now technically every team could sell their product to the media. Only problem was there was only 3 networks and they only cared about the schools that had the biggest market share. Thus ended the fiction of a level playing field forever. With the creation of ESPN all hell broke lose. We are now at the point where it makes no difference if your alumni even GAS about the sport, if ESPN will pay you, you dance to their tune.
    In the near future the Power 5 will split from the NCAA and become for all intense and purpose the NFL D League. The schools will make tons of money but will have to pay the athletes as they would pay any employee/student of the school. This of course will end when the Surgeon General declares football to be too dangerous to be played and Congress cuts off funding to any school that continues to play the game. The End is Near.


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