If you are an unabashed amateurism romantic, then this opinion piece in the New York Times should be right up your alley. Me, I love it, too, because it recycles every tired argument defending the status quo and shows how empty the NCAA’s position is. Let’s break that down a little.
Here’s his first point.
Paying student-athletes might sound like a fairer way to treat students who generate so much money and attention for their colleges (not to mention the television networks that broadcast their games). But paying athletes would distort the economics of college sports in a way that would hurt the broader community of student-athletes, universities, fans and alumni. A handful of big sports programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes, while almost every other college would get caught up in a bidding war it couldn’t afford.
Two things there. First, he doesn’t bother to rebut the argument in his first sentence. Instead he raises the concern about haves vs. have nots… as if that doesn’t already exist. The difference under amateurism is that the big programs’ money goes into a facilities arms race and staff salaries instead of player compensation.
Next comes the “everybody’s going broke” pitch.
The 30 largest universities in the country each routinely generate annual revenues exceeding $100 million from sports, but according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most of those revenues are spent covering operating expenses for the school’s athletic programs and paying tuition for their student-athletes. The majority of Division I colleges in the N.C.A.A. operate at a loss. In fact, among the roughly 350 athletic departments in the N.C.A.A.’s Division I, only about 24 schools have generated more revenue than expenses in recent years. The nation’s top five conferences made over $6 billion in 2015, billions more than all other schools combined, according to an ESPN analysis of N.C.A.A. data.
For the have-not universities, however, to continue operating means relying on millions of dollars in debt, funding from their main campus and student fees. Even with that help, some of the major athletic departments are struggling. A recent N.C.A.A. study determined that only about 20 of the 1,000 or so college sports programs in the nation were profitable. What is going to happen when the competition to offer students money is supercharged?
Gosh, maybe schools will have to budget more sensibly. Maybe they won’t pour funds into unneeded facilities and bloated staff salaries. Maybe we’ll find out that the NCAA cooks the books when it poor mouths the finances of athletic departments. Maybe we’ll understand why schools still push to move their football programs into D-1.
And maybe we’ll finally recognize that there are plenty of schools without revenue generating sports programs that still manage to field athletic teams.
Next is my favorite argument.
… At the moment, thanks in part to the pressure exerted by a 2015 ruling by Judge Wilken, top N.C.A.A. athletes can receive scholarships totaling tens of thousands of dollars for tuition, room, board and stipends, as well as cost-of-attendance compensation. But the association still sets a ceiling on those benefits, and a group of Division I basketball and football players is awaiting Judge Wilken’s ruling on whether that ceiling should effectively be lifted.
If the plaintiffs in this case are successful, the arms race for top athletes may have no limit. The top 25 or so schools will pay because they can afford to. The remaining 325 or so will be forced to make a decision: not pay their athletes (and risk losing top talent to schools that do) or find a way to pay.
There’s a ton to unpack there. To begin with, you’ve got the admission that the ruling in the first antitrust case benefited student-athletes. Second, he’s misrepresented the relief that Wilken has been asked to grant — the NCAA would not be allowed to impose a ceiling, but nothing would stop the individual conferences from doing so. That’s what a more competitive market would look like. Third, he again ignores the reality of the existing arms race.
The most important take away, though, is the unspoken admission that if player compensation were more market-based instead of imposed from above, student-athletes playing football and basketball would receive more compensation. That is the exact point those who, like the author (“For those who think that a free education is insufficient as compensation for playing sports, there are other options…”), argue those kids are already compensated under the current regime glide by. Nobody’s arguing that isn’t the case; the accurate depiction of the argument is that to the extent players are receiving less than they would in a more open market setting, they are being exploited.
He’s not finished.
Similar problems would arise in the case of so-called third-party payments, in which student-athletes could be paid for things like endorsements. Major brands like Nike would pay top football and basketball talent at the biggest schools, while student-athletes in other sports or at smaller programs would be ignored. Currently, corporate funds go to athletic departments and are generally distributed among all sports; with third-party payments, those funds could instead mostly go directly to a few student-athletes, starving the rest.
“Major brands like Nike would pay top football and basketball talent at the biggest schools…” . As if that isn’t already happening under the table. I guess that’s okay as long as we don’t know about it.
Though let’s not say he doesn’t have a heart when all is said and done. I mean, this is mighty big of him.
I am not opposed to young athletes who decide they would prefer to be paid cash to play sports.
The people suing the NCAA agree with you, man.
And so we come to the heartfelt conclusion.
Millions of student-athletes devote their sweat, blood and tears to sports. Some play football and basketball; others swim, run cross-country, play soccer or compete as gymnasts. Only a fraction of them generate money for their schools. We must ensure that the N.C.A.A. is able to preserve its commitment to all of them.
Emo, for the win. The only thing is, nobody can explain why Greg McGarity deserves to be paid more than Todd Gurley. Other than, of course, simple aesthetics. And I’m fine with that, believe it or not. Just don’t bother trying to dress it up or argue it’s the players generating the lion’s share of the revenue who alone need to make the sacrifice.