Why doesn’t the NCAA pay its players? Because they are amateurs. Why are they amateurs? Because the NCAA doesn’t pay them.
That, roughly, is the NCAA’s argument for running the gigantic exploitation racket called “college sports.” Become the primary feeder for the nation’s professional leagues, to the extent it is well-nigh impossible to get drafted into the NBA and the NFL without having gone through the NCAA, hold out the promise of a less-than-adequate scholarship for college expenses, tell tall tales about how a near full-time athlete can also pursue excellence in college education, pile on the “student-athlete” rhetoric, and finally, most importantly, construct a fantasy–aided and abetted by gullible fans and greedy administrators–about how the college sports player is the last noble bastion of amateurism in sports, how they play for heart and not wallet. That’s how the NCAA does it; that’s how it rakes in, year after year, tons of greenbacks, laughing all the way to the bank (and at its players).
Amateurism in sports has always been a load of prime-grade horseshit–right from the time of the ancient Olympics, its supposed bastion. When you see the words “sporting amateur” read instead, “bosses that don’t want to pay money.” Nowhere is this truer than in American college sports, a multi-billion dollar industry that somehow manages to pay its workers a tiny fraction of their market worth. (I hope it is common knowledge that the highest-paid public employee in many states is a college sports coach.)
This morning on my Facebook status, I made two postings pertaining to the NCAA. The first pointed to what might be the most important sports-related lawsuit in a while:
As March Madness kicks off, please take the time to read up on [O’Bannon_v._NCAA]
U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken denied the NCAA’s motion in an antitrust lawsuit brought against the association by former UCLA All-American Ed O’Bannon and a number of former college athletes in 2009. At issue is the NCAA’s right to profit forever from the names, images, and likenesses of the people who play the games without compensating the players at all. (The suit was kicked off by O’Bannon’s anger that his likeness had been used in an NCAA-licensed video game.) The NCAA sought to deny O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs…standing as a class to challenge the NCAA on antitrust grounds….If the court were to eventually decide in favor of the plaintiffs, it would force the NCAA to fork over billions of dollars in television revenues and licensing fees. It could also force the development of a more equitable system in which the people who do the work get a decent share of the profits. All the profits.
This has always been the weakest part of the NCAA’s case. It could argue that players should not be paid, based on the spurious notion that they are getting a college degree out of the deal in exchange for having a 40-hour-a-week job that requires them to travel all over the country….As the TV revenues soared and marketing opportunities boomed, the deal got all out of whack. It was preposterous to claim, as the NCAA does, that, just because Ed O’Bannon played four years at UCLA, the NCAA somehow can profit off of his likeness for the rest of his life. There simply never has been a compelling moral or ethical argument that the NCAA and the university had an inalienable right to every last nickel they could squeeze out of the work done by their student-athletes….
For the NCAA to survive in its current form, it has to win this lawsuit or get the lawsuit dismissed. There’s no third alternative. The NCAA can’t settle and then go back to the status quo ante.