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Writing On Wall For NCAA Amateur Status

By on March 18th, 2014 in Basketball, Football 15 Comments »

Yesterday, a lawsuit was filed in US federal court in yet another attempt to tear down the amateur distinction of big time college athletes at big time college institutions in an ultimate attempt to get fair compensation for student athletes in the respective multi-billion dollar industries in which they toil. This new suit, against the NCAA and the five largest conferences, challenges the lawfulness of the “wage” assigned to football and basketball players to being capped at the value of an academic scholarship, presumably under existing anti-trust legislation. With recent suits also pursuing the NCAA on similar grounds, could it finally be 3rd and 25 for college football? Watch for the pooch kick here soon.

While no reasonable person can defend hundreds of millions in value added to major programs’ bottom lines by a countless parade of high-profile athletes with little more than tuition and board as the carrot, no sane college football fan can discount the negative effect of direct money payments to players on the integrity of the sport. While this type of compensation and resulting corruption have gone on ever since we’ve had the game of football, the modern age brings the spotlight full on the big money sport it truly is. With major programs generating billions in revenue, the lavish amounts of money heaped on from ticket sales, television, and merchandising is too much to ignore anymore.

It’s un-American to think that  players’ images on TV and in video games can earn these types of dollars cumulatively but can provide no more than books, lodging,  and two semesters a year for the individual himself. It’s also unreasonable to think that the schools themselves, who have been building their brands for in excess of one hundred years in most cases, have no intrinsic value other than a revolving cast of semi-employees who filter in and out of their ranks every year. Why must it always be 3rd and long?

How did football and basketball end up like this, with the colleges serving as de facto farm systems for the sports, unlike baseball, which does provide a real alternative for those who wish to become semi-pro and those who want to remain amateurs until they get their education? We’ve so bastardized the systems and they’ve grown unchecked for so long that it may well now be impossible to separate those two distinctions again.

One must know that direct payments in the open to amateur athletes will only drive the illicit payments further underground and to ridiculous amounts. The NCAA investigative arm would never be so busy as it would be once direct compensation was approved for athletes. The corrupting influence of money over and under the table would kill the sport entirely as the integrity of the sport, schools, and individual players will be under constant scrutiny. Larger schools could always pay more than the smaller ones–the same with conferences. Recruiting would literally morph into a draft.

No one wants to think about the alternative of the pros establishing legitimate farm systems for football and basketball. Even if the NFL and NBA could, the lure of college athletics would still be strong. What 18-year old kid would want to play in front of nobody for $50,000 a year if he could instead strut his stuff in front of  a home crowd of 90,000 and a national TV audience? It would be a much harder decision than you think. You can’t break the stranglehold of decades of national prominence and tradition overnight–for any price. I’d like to think we’d still root for our schools even if we only fielded intramural level teams, but college fans are a lot more sophisticated than they were even two decades ago. Everything in the sport is evolving.

I think it’s inevitable. Athletes are soon going to get a better compensation package than they’ve been getting. So many lawsuits, so much money, and so many good arguments about the fairness of it all are swaying the sentiment. The only details are in what form the compensation will be. Here’s some of the things I think I know what it CANNOT be:

  • An inducement for a player to be recruited by a particular school
  • Anything based on wellness or non-injury
  • Differences in conferences
  • Media attraction, TV appearances, individual awards, or star power

I think a good starting point for compensation would be in a deferred fund for players of a division–FBS, FCS, etc– after their eligibility was exhausted. Call it the ultimate collective bargaining agreement. They all earn as a collective body and share in the rewards after their college careers have ended. Having the compensation deferred would help protect their amateur status, if not in word, then in perception. A share of all revenue they help earn would go into the pot, to be drawn on eventually for such issues as medical treatment, continuing education, and perhaps a pension.

No one should pretend to have all the answers on such a large, complicated, comprehensive issue as justly compensating college athletes a fair wage for the revenue they help generate, but we should try to get ahead of it very soon and do it voluntarily–instead of having it ordered as a judgement in a huge lawsuit.

How would you help solve it?


  1. mvhcpa says:

    “I’d like to think we’d still root for our schools even if we only fielded intramural level teams”–WarEagleAtlanta

    You hit the nail on the head right there, WEA. As I wrote here a year-and-a-half ago, the “magic” of college sports isn’t based on the performance of the kids, but the fact that they are OUR kids playing at OUR institution, representing US. As soon as the players become a commodity unto themselves, like pro athletes, they won’t REPRESENT us anymore–and there goes what makes college sports all it is right down the toilet.

    How to solve it? Well, the NCAA is trying to preserve amateurism, for reasons either shady (not sharing the pie, not exposing itself to worker’s comp issues, etc.) or noble (keeping the aforementioned “magic” in college sports). Yet, just as the accounting term for most universities is “not-FOR-profit” rather than “NON-profit”–an important distinction–there is just too much money coming into this racket to ignore all the components that generate the dough.

    We may be dealing with mutually exclusive goals; perhaps it’s own success, with all the cash flowing in has killed it already. I guess that is the crux of the situation–a “fan” can buy a shirt at Wally World, or buy a spot in a luxury box (with a big donation) at a stadium, and think they are part of the success of the institution as a whole. That is part of being a fan, but it isn’t the essence of being an Auburn man or woman–or being a real fan of any team.

    I haven’t figured out yet what makes a sport an NCAA sport–what makes football now more than a club-level activity like rugby. Maybe we can start over somehow and get football back to where it used to be–sure, there were always “cheating” and ringers around (looking at YOU, Bama, in 18-that’s EIGHTEEN-95), but it was truly more about AUBURN than it was the players, or even the game itself. But, then, would anyone care at all?

    Michael Val
    (who apologizes for answering your last question with “there is no answer”)

  2. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    While I agree that players should be allowed a minimal stipend for the time and effort they put forth into playing at the collegiate level, I have my doubts about proceeding down this path of professional employees.

    I fear the following might become possible once the term “student athlete” is replaced by “student employee.”

    1. Unrestricted free agency. Players would be able to ‘shop’ from year to year from institution to institution for whichever one offers them the best deal for their service. Having an elite athlete complete a full four years at any institution might become a rarity.

    2. Sponsorship and promotional advertising invading the collegiate game. Once they become employees, contractual limitations will be removed. If not immediately, they soon will due to litigation.

    3. Collective bargaining by unionized players. It is almost inevitable in such a system, well within their rights and it has happened in every major professional sport with a large television market.

    4. Walkouts or boycotts over contract disagreements. Another fairly common aspect of major professional sports. Nearly every one has had some form of this in the last few decades.

    I do believe players should receive a portion of the immense pile of money accumulated through NCAA football. After all, they are the ones running the highest risks and creating the entire reason for the flow of money. However, their status as amateur athletes protects both them and the sport from influences that we’ve seen in other televised professional sports over the years.

    Will all of the above happen in a day? Probably not, but the potential exists for all of it to come about over time. I don’t have a solution, but based upon what I’ve seen in professional sports, I’m not sure about making these players into full professional athletes just yet.

    • WarEagleAtlanta WarEagleAtlanta says:

      Good points. Certainly if the market can’t unfairly limit their compensation, it shouldn’t be allowed to dictate where these ‘workers’ can ply their craft. Players should be free to go anywhere they want at any time. Can you imagine the turnover based on playing time alone?


  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……One of the most valuable things I learned at Auburn wasn’t taught by the school. It was living within a budget, and making hard choices on what to spend money on. Back when I was down there, kids didn’t have credit cards unless mom and pop co-signed. And if you skipped one quarter, you were off mom and dad’s health insurance, too.

    ……I remember eating peanut butter and bread for a couple of weeks one time, after replacing a radiator, and having rent and insurance due the same week. You learn to economize. Not run the AC or heat. Don’t drive unless you just have to. Drink water instead of cool-ade or soda. To me, it was invaluable. Basically back then, you had the money in your checking account, or you didn’t. Learning how to budget was the name of the game, and I think we’ll do our scholarship athletes a disservice if the system is changed.

    • WarEagleAtlanta WarEagleAtlanta says:

      That’s because you blew your money on a new amp!

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..I didn’t have an amp till I got a job at Country’s. We used to put a pair of those big headphones on the body of an acoustic guitar, plug it into the mic jack of a cassette deck, run the record levels all the way up, and run this awful buzzy sound through the stereo. It would torture a set of speakers!

        …..My first decent amp was a 120-watt Peavy Butcher I bought in 1986, with a 4×12 speaker cab. It was good enough that I bought a second one a few months later, so I could do stereo guitar. Those things still work very well, and have been amazingly durable. And they go loud enough to break glass, too!

  4. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    Here’s the answer and you said it when you wrote, “unlike baseball, which does provide a real alternative for those who wish to become semi-pro and those who want to remain amateurs until they get their education”

    I’ve long believed that the NBA and NFL must provide minor league systems that exist only to develop talent that they might be interested in at the professional level. They break even only to pay out everyone’s salaries and you provide rural teams that will build the popularity of the sport.

    Ask yourselves this question, “what would the popularity of MLB be if there were no farm teams?” I would argue that popularity would be much less. I think our nations pastime is popular because of the minors and it brings affordable entertainment to local areas and increases local industries.

    We need kids deciding out of high school if they want an education (NCAA) or start making money for their talent (Semi-pro) and the NBA and NFL must be involved because kids need to see the direct link to the pro level.

    Until this happens, the NCAA will always fight the battle of preserving amateur status. We don’t see women’s gymnastic or men’s tennis fighting this battle…because they ain’t making xbox games for those sports…follow the money. But you absolutely cannot pay these athletes outside of their education cost. The system will eat itself and the only option would be that men’s football and basketball would no longer be supported or regulated by the NCAA.

    The NCAA even has a rule against providing monies by boosters or the institution even after they’ve graduated, which would stifle setting aside any mutual funds that would earn interest while they play to be awarded upon graduation.

  5. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    Unless I’m mistaken I think the students are just looking for ‘fairness’ (or the semblance thereof). I know life isn’t fair. But there’s a couple of things I like about this discussion: 1. the idea of a stipend; 2. deferred ‘payment’/aka rainy day fund for our athletes.

    1. All sort of students get stipends. As a doctoral student, I got one. It wasn’t much, but it covered most of my rent, food, utility bills, beer for a Friday night. Really, as a student, do you need much else. Many of our athletes do not have the financial stability at home to cover some basic necessities. This leads to dodgy behavior and back door deals and “loans” from the trainers. At a minimum, the students’ basic needs need to covered.

    2. I really like WEA’s idea of a ‘deferred fund’. Money earned from the use of likenesses for video games, a small percentage of ticket sales, bowl game money, etc can go into this fund. Every player can get a one time payout at the end of their college career (a ‘graduation present’ if you will). Additionally, this fund can be used to pay for injury related medical costs and therapy. Perhaps even an R&D arm of the fund to cover studies involving healthy conditioning, head trauma and infectious disease (Staph, meningitis, etc.). Call it a socialized deferred fund if you like, but it’s there to protect the student athletes and cover their needs. Win-win.

    The fact is that we already have shady underground deals. Honestly, if the NCAA agrees to cover basic needs in combination with generating a legitimate and competent Investigative/Enforcement Division, it may help clean up the sport a bit. I do believe that it will take a leader whose name is NOT Mark Emmert to make this happen. The NCAA needs to be torn down and built back up. It doesn’t work now and is a joke–that is what is making this sport messy.

    • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

      Deferred funds smell of Title IX infringement…I know it’s not federal funding but precedents have been set and every sport would get its share even if their likeness isn’t used in the gaming industry. Besides, I’m not sure EASports would be willing to shell out the huge amount of money for athlete’s likeness. They are selling plenty of games since they’ve quit that practice.

      If schools have to pay anything out of pocket to student athletes towards stipends, rainy day funds, graduation presents, it just won’t work for all NCAA schools. Few even have the resources to do that.

      The ink has dried and Pearl will be looking for real estate in Lee County!!!

      • Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

        I was merely using the ‘likenesses’ as an example. The thing is with a monster fund, input and export need to be highly regulated and negotiated. To me, giving the students a standardized stipend (in Science for example, we have stipend rates set by the National Institute of Health–you don’t see Uni’s going over this amount), set by the new NCAA, is the easiest solution. The stipend wouldn’t mean that a student could spend freely, but it would give the student some flexibility in paying rent and food……I agree with Acid, learning how to budget, living within one’s means….all valuable lessons. I think what we have been hearing consistently is that student athletes don’t have much extra funds, on top of the fact that their current schedules do not support holding a job……..which leads to bad decisions and sketchy loans if the ole fam can’t pitch in………

        Perhaps Jeff Holland can provide some perspective as far as the nuts and bolts of what is covered by a scholy and what is not……

        • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

          Yeah but won’t the stipend be paid out by the universities? For every athlete on campus that would be a greater burden on the school’s budget and again, most colleges couldn’t afford that. Very few universities even operate in the black. I think this is eventually going to change the landscape permanently. Can you imagine player’s union on campuses?

          • Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

            Yes, stipends come out of the University budget, but if those a** holes can afford million dollar salaries, they should be able to swing some stipends. But that covers the big schools……how to help the smaller less flush schools will be the sticky part of this…….

  6. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Good post WEA. I see both sides of this and I don’t know what’s the best answer. But I agree with TotM about redoing the NCAA. The big conferences need to lead the way on that one.

  7. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    This is an issue that won’t go away. One of these times a lawsuit is going to change the way athletes are treated with their scholly’s. That may or may not be a good thing depending on what happens in that future ruling. You really bring up some good points ie.deferred fund … food for thought. However, I’m not one that is in favor of “collective bargaining” rights for college athletes.

  8. GreenvilleAUfan GreenvilleAUfan says:

    I hate to see college sports headed in this direction. It essentially will make the best athletes be able to become free agents. How can that be good for college athletics?