August 19, 2011
I believe that I have had a change of heart. For as long as I can remember, I have felt that college athletes should be treated exactly the same as all other students. That is the driving force behind NCAA rules that govern collegiate sports/athletes. If a school is allowed to provide compensation above-and-beyond to elite players, it simply becomes a bidding war between the most “wealthy” programs. With that said, I also know that it is already just a bidding war. Recruiters, coaches and administrators may start the bidding with the promise of a top-notch, free education, but boosters too often pad the offers with money, cars, girls and parties. In the case of the recent Miami Hurricane woes, the school was very likely aware of this and condoned it on some level.
Now on to my change of heart. I now feel that high profile athletes need to be compensated on some level. Colleges make millions on the backs of their athletes. Boosters pour in money and fans buy tickets and merchandise to be a part of the excitement. This excitement is provided by the players. Sure, they are getting “paid” in free tuition, books and housing. But so is the kid that earned a full ride based on academics. And that is where the river parts. The athletes are bringing in millions of dollars. And while I am sure the academics are earning the school some form of notoriety, and probably money in grants and patents and such, I do not see how it is a level playing field. When was the last time the chem lab sold 70,000 seats? Can you recall walking into the mall and seeing your favorite mathematicians jersey selling for $75? Well, maybe at M.I.T., but I REALLY doubt it.
This whole thing is compounded by the fact that NCAA scholarship athletes are even limited on having a part-time job. They are not allowed to work during their active sports season. Is this kind of limitation placed on a scholarship English student? I think not. So, if an athlete is not allowed to earn outside of the system, why shouldn’t he be earning inside? Maybe the NCAA could come up with a nice algorithm to put value on a player. Something that considers the schools value in the sport in question (my beloved Kentucky would be a pretty high value basketball school, but relatively low in football). The position (especially in football) and productivity would be key factors. How dependent is your program on any given player? Your Heisman-hopeful running back is probably your biggest asset. He will probably be your top earner.
I know this is very convoluted. But there are far bigger brains out there that can devise a fair system that helps curb the seemingly endless NCAA violations. It is just a different world than the one where these rules were introduced. It is time to be realistic. And if you need someone to crunch the numbers required to formulate such a plan…just grab one of your free-ride math students. This can be their way of giving back to the sports that fund their education (did you really think that sports money wasn’t getting spread around?).