It’s Not Fair, It’s the NCAA
You’re an 18-year-old athlete and worked hard since you were a little boy. All through elementary school, middle school, junior high and high school, you were a standout. Now, everyone who evaluates your talent sees a golden future for you. Time to cash in on your skills, right? After all, most athletes are washed up by their 30s, leaving them a few years to profit. Who could oppose anyone with skills like that making a living as soon as they reach their 18th birthday?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, that’s who. The NCAA is the governing body for college sports of all kinds. No matter what sport, whether football, basketball, water polo or field hockey, this group has a tremendous level of power over the lives of young athletes. Since it is a nonprofit, the NCAA seems to fear the idea of young athletes earning a living.
The NCAA was founded in 1905 in controversy. At the turn of the 20th century football was gaining wide popularity on college campuses. The problem was the violent nature of the sport (played then without helmets or such safety measures as banning the head slap) was killing and maiming many of the young men who played on the early gridiron. President Theodore Roosevelt, a strong believer in the ability of sports as a way to develop character in young men, called a pair of White House conferences for colleges to avoid outlawing the sport, a proposal then gaining favor. The idea of governing themselves was established at these meetings which required a governing body to do this.
The next decades saw the creation of a college football championship (in 1921) and a basketball one (1939) by the NCAA. After World War II the growing power of television came into play, requiring the organization police broadcast contracts as well. In the 1970s and 1980s, Title IX, a section of a federal education law, has been used to force the schools to offer a full range of sports for female athletes, who previously had been widely ignored by the NCAA.
From its headquarters in Kansas City (selected as a central location apart from the influence of major athletic conferences) the NCAA stands ready to deal with all threats to the integrity of collegiate sports. While this sounds honorable, it often creates situations that benefit schools while disadvantaging athletes.
Basketball offers excellent examples. After some high-school basketball stars such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James went straight to the National Basketball Association without playing in college, a new rule was instituted by the NBA stating that no one could be drafted without playing at least a year of college ball. Advantage NCAA. A lawsuit by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon highlighted (but did not solve) the instances of athletes who get no education, thus coming out of college functionally illiterate. All too often the students do not get the help they deserve for what they bring to their schools.
Remember always when the NCAA says something it’s all about money. The colleges want access to a steady stream of income. Another consideration is bragging rights; a school with successful sports has a strong advantage in bringing in new students, who will pay to attend sporting events while in school (and often for the rest of their lives). Every t-shirt, hoodie or iPhone cover emblazoned with the name of a college shows the stakes. The NCAA will not cede these powers willingly. There’s a buck to be made.
Lost in this extravaganza of revenue streams is the most important part, the athletes themselves. At an age when most of us are learning about the finer things the adult world has to offer (keg parties, pizza for breakfast, etc.) they are moving into the prime years of their careers. They earn a great deal of money but get to keep none of it. Worse, they are treated as criminals if they get anything in compensation. At the same time, they are expected to maintain high grade point averages throughout their years of playing for free, I mean, their college careers. What is to be done for them?
Here’s a radical idea: pay them. For some student-athletes the free education offered with a scholarship is its own reward. Peyton Manning, for instance, graduated after using only three of his four years of eligibility at Tennessee but chose to return as a graduate student to play a fourth season as the Volunteers’ quarterback. Not every athlete values a college education this much. They all deserve to be fairly compensated for their efforts. Negotiate contracts with them just as a professional would have. The pay is less and a free education will still be a part of the deal. Only now it will be optional. These athletes are not kids. It’s high time the NCAA treats them like adults in their employ.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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