On Paying Student-Athletes II

November 1, 2014
The author penned an “As I See It” article titled “On Student-Athletes” near the turn of the century. This was followed by the author’s “As I See It” article nearly 10 years ago titled “On Paying Student-Athletes”. This article is a follow-up to these two papers.

As noted earlier, it is important for the reader to understand that college sports is no longer a sport in the traditional Hellenic sense. It is, pure and simple, a big business that is in the business of providing entertainment in order to make money. Sports is no longer a term that applies at the professional level and most major collegiate programs. Sports has become big business and capitulated to excesses with the corruption that often accompanies uncontrolled capitalism. Bottom line: it has been converted to entertainment. A small group of individuals provide the entertainment and, contrary to American democratic principles and capitalism, are essentially deprived of fair compensation. Most of these entertainers get little to nothing in terms of monetary salaries. A handful are later provided significant financial rewards; it is almost strictly a matter if the entertainers make the pros. In basketball, first round draft choices are guaranteed a millions dollars a year for three years. Second round draft choices get nothing unless they make the team.

Some simplistic individuals continue to view sports and/or athletic events in the classic tradition of the Olympics. It was 500 BC when a handful of Spartan warriors routed the invading Persians at the Plains of Marathon, located approximately 25 miles from Athens. Immediately following the victory, the Olympics were born. The Olympics continued to flourish as a “pure” sport until politics, and more recently, money was introduced into the mix.

Make no mistake about it, the sole purpose of colleges and universities in the old days was to provide quality education. In recent years, these institutions of higher learning have moved into the business of making money. I speak from firsthand personal experience.

And what do we have today? Professional sports are run by the owners, commissioners, and networks in a manner that provides the best in entertainment in order to maximize its profits. Even the officiating is geared toward this end. (Fortunately, the athletes at the professional level have become rich, being appropriately compensated).

Here is what James Michener (my favorite author) had to say in 1990:

“It is still reprehensible for colleges to glean huge profits from their football and basketball teams, while giving their student players no share. I believe that, before the next century, colleges will pay their athletes, and I recommend a system in which a high school graduate who is awarded a scholarship will be allowed 10 years in which to use it. This will enable him to move into the pros while still young and useful, yet obtain his college degree when he is waived out of the league.”

I would go significantly beyond Michener’s position. These athletes, most of whom are anything but students, should be paid. They need representation, just like professional athletes, if they are to receive their fair share. Otherwise, their coaches and individuals like Myles Brand of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will continue to deny them endorsements, gate receipts, TV contracts, etc., on the grounds that such “remuneration will corrupt sports and the amateur ideal.”

One can only wonder if student-athletes (SAs) give thought to what they have given to society. One can only wonder if the NCAA has ever given thought to the SAs role in society. The author believes the suits at the NCAA rarely give thought to the aspirations and the future of the Unsuccessful SAs who would more appropriately be referred to as USAs.

Even after high school, the main problem with many of the SAs is that no one has taught them how to be a star in college. There is television, radio, crowds, press conferences, interviews, etc. Some of these activities are often embarrassing. The main problem with the successful SAs (in this case that means reaching the pros) is that no one, once again, has taught them how to be a star. But what about those SAs who are unsuccessful, i.e., USAs. Once the (senior) season is over, the artificial stage of their college life has ended, and the USAs glamorous world is gone. Kaput! An irreversible happening that will never return.

What happens then? The USA returns to the real world…his home, his city, and in some cases, his country. He is effectively alone within a day. Some do return to their institution and keep in touch with their teammates, and occasionally their coaches, but the contact is inevitably limited. The ending comes quickly as earlier social and professional contacts decrease at an exponential rate.

The former intimacy with both players and coaches dissolves as the USA retreats into another world and is once again simply part of the masses. No longer is everything taken care of by other people; the servants who prepare his meals, outfit him, and provide travel arrangements are now history. And even worse, no one has forewarned him, and no one has taught him to adjust to a new lifestyle.

On March 25th (Greek Independence Day) 2014, a regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Northwestern University football players are entitled to unionize. Even though authorities appear to be in agreement that this decision will almost certainly be upheld by the national (full) NLRB, lines have been drawn and the NCAA is certain to litigate the decision. This decision could significantly impact the whole spectrum of labor law – including minimum wage, health benefits, social security provisions, unemployment insurance, etc. If upheld, as expected, this decision will (not could) bring the long awaited and justified demise of part – if not all – of the NCAA. I believe that the NCAA will be so crippled by changes that the NCAA, as it is known today, will either disappear or take on a completely different role in college athletics in the future.

There is so much money involved that the sport of college basketball and football will survive. The above court decision will no doubt lead to salaries plus benefits for the athletes, many of whom will no longer be viewed as students. In effect, the term student-athlete will disappear from the dictionary. How, where, and why revenues will be distributed to college athletes – many of whom will be categorized as employees – will be determined by business decisions in the relatively near future.

A colleague and former adversary (on the basketball court) Neal Gillen, a Washington, D.C. based attorney, offered the following “solution” to the SA problem for my soon-to-be-published book titled “Basketball Coaching 101”:

“The issue must be addressed on three separate fronts:
A. An enforceable contract between the school and the student-athlete
B. Changing NCAA eligibility rules
C. Professional leagues agreeing not to sign collegiate players until they or their class have graduated
I have also included provisions for player travel expenses and a monthly stipend to be determined. I did not include a provision for a student athlete to participate in the proceeds of the sale of jerseys, T-shirts, or other memorabilia, but were I to do so, any such payment would not be forthcoming until the athlete or his or her class has graduated. There could be antitrust issues, but should the changes I propose be made and upheld, the game would change once more for the better.

A. Contract between Student Athlete and Educational Institution
The student athlete agrees that in consideration for he or she receiving from the academic institution a four year scholarship that includes tuition, books, tutoring, room, meal, laundry, cleaning, and reasonable travel expenses to and from home at the beginning and ending of each semester, in addition to a monthly stipend during his or her athletic and academic eligibility, said stipend to be determined pursuant to a national agreement between this and other academic institutions and the NCAA, that said student will strictly adhere to the rules and regulations of this academic institution and its athletic department, endeavor to maintain good study habits, participate in all scheduled classes unless otherwise excused because of ill health or playing commitment, will make up any such classes missed, complete all research papers assigned submitting only original research conducted by him or herself, will comport him or herself in a proper moral manner at all times and will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, using narcotics, gambling or providing information about the team’s or a player’s status to known gamblers. Said athlete also agrees that he or she is contractually bound to this agreement, and a breach thereof will require that liquidated damages be paid to the education institution should the player fail to complete the 4-year commitment. Said damages to be determined by arbitration conducted pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association.

B. NCAA Athlete Participation Standards
Effective on a certain date, student athletes in all NCAA Divisions shall be ineligible to participate in varsity sports until their sophomore year, provided they have achieved a minimum 2.5 cumulative average and have successfully completed course work in 32 credit hours. (Author’s comment: This Provision could go a long way toward reducing or eliminating the NCAA academic abuses)

C. United States Professional Athletic Leagues and/or Associations
Players shall not be eligible to contract signatories obligating them to play the professional sport overseen by the governing league and/or association to which a team is a member of and is governed by until his or her college class has graduated unless prior to that date the player in question has earned the necessary credit hours to graduate.”

It all boils down to this: As a former professor, I was paid for chemical engineering education services that were provided to an institution that made money because of the services provided. A SA is not paid for services that are provided to an institution that makes money because of the services the SA provides. Why was I paid and the SA not paid? Isn’t this country a democracy that operates with an economic system based on capitalism? The NCAA apparently does not believe that James Madison’s Constitution applies equally to all – only to some of us.

Folks, Hamlet was right. Something is rotten, terribly rotten.

Perhaps Alex Karras, Detroit Lions defensive end said it best about his scholastic days: “I never graduated from Iowa. I was there for only two terms – Truman’s and Eisenhower’s.”

Lou Theodore

NEXT POSTINGS: (tentative)

DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Basketball: 2014-15 Season
JANUARY 1: On Football Boxes
FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats

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