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The NCAA Should Abandon Amateurism

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What if Johnny Manziel could ditch his online classes, focus only on football and get paid to do it as part of a professional feeder league not associated with the NCAA? Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images.
What if Johnny Manziel could ditch his online classes, focus only on football and get paid to do it as part of a professional feeder league not associated with the NCAA? Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images.

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.