BY MATTHEW ROSS
THE NCAA HAS BEEN SHAMEFUL LONG ENOUGH
Generally, dictatorships and oppressive regimes are regarded as a bad thing. Well-intentioned people sometimes die trying to break up such political systems. So, why is the NCAA allowed to continue to operate the way that they do? Granted, no one is dying from their policies of greed and monopolizing, but it doesn’t mean what it’s doing is right, either.
You’ve read about the stories over and over. A player is suspended or investigated because he took a free sandwich from a local deli. Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little. But the point is that compared to the billions (yes, billions) that NCAA is making on the backs of student athletes (mostly in football and basketball), what’s a free suit to a player?
The credo is strict: You take anything for free and you will be sanctioned and possibly thrown out of college sports. The NCAA justifies this policy by saying that they are trying to keep the sport pure and free of corruption. Its other argument about the no-frills student policy is that every athlete is being paid to be there by receiving a paid-for education. I absolutely detest this second argument. Yes, giving an athlete that otherwise might not have had the means to attend your school an opportunity to earn a free education is fantastic. But if that athlete is part of a team that brings in millions upon millions of dollars for four years in a row, then isn’t giving them only that, the equivalent of well under market value pay in any other profession? Yes, I said the magic word: profession. I am well aware that these are athletes and not professional athletes. Yet, their non-pro collective status would only matter in this instance if the schools and the NCAA were not making money. Instead everyone profits except the performers.
So you’ll excuse me if I get a little ticked off every time the NCAA makes an example out of an athlete that made a few bucks off of his own autograph! It’s almost criminal, when you think about it. It’s a farce.
And perhaps even more so in college basketball, where schools only have to give out 12-15 scholarships in exchange for a ton of cash! Heck, the sweat moppers, if they’re not volunteers, might be making more money than the ballers playing the game. Insanity.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that college athletes should be making millions of dollars and treated as professionals. But when you consider the low percentage of university players that go on to make an actual living out of their sport, you can’t help but think that the current system simply isn’t fair. Alright, Matthew – so how do you fix it? What’s your big idea? I firmly believe that there is no perfect solution. However, certain measures could be taken in order to make things a little more just for everyone involved.
First, the idea of a reasonable stipend should be instituted for each player – and not based on how good the player is or how hard he/she was recruited. No, this should be based on the success of the team and program at the school. If a player isn’t allowed to get a part-time job in order to have a little pocket money, then you have to discourage him from taking outside money by rewarding the athlete with some sort of larger stipend. This way, if you’re going to enforce strict penalties for taking outside money, at least you’ll actually have good reason.
Next, an additional exit fund should be put together for each player upon his/her graduation or departure from the program. This would be especially welcomed by the players that don’t go on to make millions in professional sports. The money could help them start a business or relocate to find a job, etc. Instead of throwing these athletes that made the schools a boatload of money out the door with nothing more than a diploma and a pat on the back, why not make them feel appreciated and compensate their efforts a little?
By putting in suggested measures such as these, the NCAA wouldn’t come across as the dictator that it is. Moreover, it would also further encourage student athletes to pay even more attention to the no-perks rules, or risk losing their regular ‘pay’ that they would now get. As an added bonus, by instituting these additional improvements to the quality of life for these players, the NCAA and its schools may actually get something out of it. You might see more star players wanting to stay another year in school, instead of jumping early into professional sports. Sure these suggested monetary gestures would pale in comparison to pro money, but it might make these players appreciate their college years that much more. So get on it, NCAA. In the immortal words of Michael Jackson: “Make that Change!” Of course, the only flaw in the plan is if the players start using this additional money to buy items such as gold teeth, unnecessary jewelry and lots of extra beer. But nothing is without risk, right?
Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host. Follow @tsnmatthew.