The NCAA Should Abandon Amateurism
Fraudulent History Of Amateurism
Amateurism is an abstract status that has been lionized by the American public. Amateur has French roots, meaning “lover of.” However, amateurism has always been about money, not love. A brief look at the history of amateurism will tell you that the upper-class men in Victorian England idealized the concept so that poor men would have to keep working in their factories. The upper class knew that these poor athletes would ditch their day jobs if they could make a living in sports. There is no proud line of ancient Greek amateurism; it is a scam that grew with the development of college sports and has been supported so long that it is now accepted as tradition.
College football started as an amateur sport with good intentions. It was an extracurricular activity for students to enjoy. But when the money started rolling, college teams started acting like professional teams in all ways except compensation. And it became normal for Americans to expect institutions of higher learning to have multi-million dollar semi-professional football teams associated with them.
When did this become normal?
Amateurism is as highly protected now as it was in the 19th century and the motives are not different. The NCAA harshly guards amateurism because these “amateur” football players are lining the NCAA’s pockets. The NCAA knows that if they started paying players and abandoned amateurism altogether, the whole system would change. But this change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The NCAA should embrace the changing sports world and abandon amateurism by paying the players, giving up the fraudulent “student-athlete” label, and opening up football to the free market.
Players Should Be Paid
Amateurism is the excuse the NCAA uses to justify holding hard-earned wages from its athletes. Simple greed is keeping money away from these football players. Football programs make enough money to pay the players. They simply don’t want to.
The SEC gives us a great example. According to the University of Florida Athletic Association’s operating budget for 2012-2013, football ticket sales brought in $21.1 million, SEC revenue sharing expected to raise $16.5 million, and the team’s equipment contract with Nike paid out $1.6 million dollars.
That’s a total of $39.2 million dollars rolling into the football program before counting the money from boosters, merchandise, and other sources of media revenue. I know that that running a football team comes with significant overhead, but we can’t find some slice of that $39.2 million pie to give to the athletes? Even if you had a large football team, with the maximum number of players (105) and gave them $20,000 a year for their work. That would be a $2.1 million drop in a bucket of more than $4 million.
Even that modest $20k a year would do wonders for these kids. It would pay for their living expenses, give them the money to go out to eat, and buy some presents for their families during the holidays. Fans have to remember that most of these football players come from poor backgrounds. Their parents don’t have discretionary funds to support their kids in college. The scholarships they have now pay for room and board, books, and regular trips to the dining hall, but not much else. It’s not like these kids can get part-time jobs. The demands of the football team take up all the time they have, and they have to work on keeping their grades up.
The money wouldn’t cut into academic funds. Not all of that money is going to the university in the first place. Of the $96 million the UF Athletic Association made, only $7 million went back to the school. There is enough money to go around.
Athletes Don't Get The Education They Are Offered
Many people balk at paying the players, claiming they get paid in education. These critics say the scholarship and free classes the athletes receive should be considered compensation. At some level, they are correct. These classes have monetary value, and they are provided to the players, except the players can’t take advantage of this opportunity because they are pouring themselves into football.
They don’t have the time to really dig into their classwork. They spend hours at practice, in the weight room and studying film. Their schedules are overloaded with workouts, leaving them little time for school. Plus, some of the players view school as an obstacle to overcome to get on the field. The worst part is, the schools know this. Coaches and athletic directors talk a lot about how the “student” comes first in “student-athlete” but a good coach knows that a high graduation rate and a losing season will still get him fired.
So schools stash football players away in joke majors, and give them tutors that all but write their papers for them. I went to a big-time SEC school; the only time I had classes with athletes, was when I was looking for an easy elective to fill out my schedule.
These athletes are given classes they don’t care about, with low standards to ensure they pass. They don’t have any time to do their work because football demands so much of it, and the school gives them tutors that are told to help them as much as possible. So it shouldn’t be surprising that many athletes leave college with degrees, but without knowledge.
The NCAA Should Abandon Amateurism Altogether
The NCAA should drop the charade. They should abandon amateurism entirely. They should quit perpetuating the lie of the “student-athlete” and treat their football teams like the professional football clubs they already are. The teams could finally drop the act of being a university institution. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide could easily become the Alabama Crimson Tide, proud sponsor of the University of Alabama.
If the NCAA abandoned amateurism it would break apart the NCAA-NFL cartel. This is why those currently in power are grasping to hold onto their power. The stranglehold of this monopoly would be shattered and football would be opened up to the free market. If the NCAA abandoned amateurism, they could include player salaries into their budget and start operating like any other professional league.
The death of amateurism would probably result in the end of the NCAA itself. It would leave the conferences to decide the future of their teams. Conferences would be forced to choose if they wanted to continue as a developmental league for the NFL, with teams of 18-to-22-year-old prospects, or if they wanted to loosen their standards and try to field the best football team they could put together. Some conferences would continue to act as a minor league for bigger conferences and the NFL, but the prime time conferences might go after the best players. If that happened, I know of at least one free agent quarterback who might be open to returning to Gainesville to play for the Florida Gators.
Eventually, other competitive leagues would rise up and football teams would pop up throughout the country. The ever-growing demand of football would finally be met with an adequate supply. Football in this country would most likely take on the model of soccer in European countries. Every city would have its own team, and through devices of promotion and relegation a talent equilibrium would be established. There would be a top league comprised of mostly NFL teams, since they have the history and money. There would be middling leagues of big time former college programs and new professional upstarts trying to compete with the big dogs, and there would be bottom feeders of small city teams and small former college programs that served as the developmental league. With all of that football, you know someone would start playing in the spring. Then America could finally have year round football. And all the athletes would be compensated for their work.
Change Good For (Most) Everyone
This change would be good for all parties. The players would earn fair wages, there would be more teams in more cities, and the American people could enjoy even more high-quality football. The only thing in the way is the current system controlled by the NFL-NCAA cartel, and the first step to break that monopoly is to start paying the players.
It's a very interesting concept. I think that the players should be paid out of athletic department earnings and then required to pay for their classes out of that (which would still leave them with plenty left over) and the money that they are currently receiving for tuition would go to real students and their tuition costs. These athletes are basically working a full time job while also having to go to class sometimes and write the occasional paper. I'm not for separating the teams from the actual school because like Archer said, I find myself cheering for the Orange and Blue more than I do for individual players. What I think is the biggest hole in all of this is how do you determine how much a player makes? Does the starting qb make more than the backup long snapper? Overall I agree with the article that the only reason players aren't paid is because the NCAA is, at it's heart, just another greedy organization looking to maximize earnings on the helpless. Today's athletes are athlete-students. School is a distant number 2 to most athletes, if it's even the number 2 priority. I just recently graduated with my bachelors and school takes time. I find it hard to believe that Brazton Miller is hitting the books every night after practice. I'm sure some athletes do take advantage of the education but I think it's a vast majority that don't. The pay they would receive would be penny's to the athletic departments of the big schools, but small schools sunbelt, or MAC schools probably don't have the revenue to pay the players what an LSU or an Ohio State does and I don't see UF or Michigan agreeing to a revenue sharing system like MLB has.. There's no clean way to break it up so I bet it's going to be a long time, if ever, when players are paid.
I think an interesting comparison would be the standard of living between athletes in Minor League Baseball and NCAA athletes. I admit I don't have any idea of the real world numbers, but when all the benefits of student athletes are taken together (tuition, housing, food, additional scholarships/Pell Grants) I would guess they may be equal or higher to the standards in the Minors. You could argue that College Football generates much more revenue than the Minors, but you'd have to ask if its really the players earning that revenue. Are people really paying because of Tyrod Taylor, or are they paying to see the Hokies run out of the tunnel to Enter Sandman? The fans still want to see wins, but in my mind College Football would survive without the second test talent pool for football. It shouldn't have to pay the players extra when the school brands themselves are what people really want to see. Very interesting article though. I admire the European soccer model with relegation, but it's not without flaws either. From my limited knowledge, it seems to sacrifice the parity that scholarship limits and salary caps create within the NCAA and NFL.
As complicated as our national health care debate. Christopher makes good points, but what is the solution for a system that attracts misconduct?
Interesting fantasy, but there are many theoretical holes. For one, without a radical solution, this would mean the end of college athletics. Without the football revenue stream, all the other sports would be forced to fold, or else tuition across the country would skyrocket (wait, you say that's already happening?). Second, the majority of college football players actually do use their education. I'm not sure how viable it would be to ditch the chance at a degree for a $20,000 a year job, as you propose, which could last just a few years. Third, as a former Division I athlete myself, it's definitely possible to maximize your education while performing at a top level on the field. And what of all the non-BCS conference schools that wouldn't have the talent or the fan base to exist outside the NCAA and university spectrum?