No matter what NCAA president Mark Emmert said on the witness stand last week during the landmark antitrust case brought against college sports by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, it all meant nothing after this quote:
“They (student-athletes) want to know everyone is playing by the same rules,” he said. “They want to know the other teams consist of student-athletes just like them.”
Did he have to stifle a laugh after that comment? There is no bigger joke in college athletics than that statement. Of course the playing field isn’t level. Cheating is rampant in college sports — from the players getting paid one way or another (see Reggie Bush, USC football), or taking their academics less than seriously (see Rashad McCants, North Carolina basketball).
College athletics is rife with problems and yet the powers that run it refuse to do anything about it or pretend it’s not actually happening. Either way, Emmert and his cronies are delusional to think college sports in the last bastion of “amateurism” in the world.
It’s hard to make that argument when college sports is a multi-billion-dollar business. And yet the people on which colleges have built this empire, the players themselves, don’t get a dime.
This lawsuit is just the latest in a string of student-athlete rebellions. Early this year, athletes at Northwestern University were allowed to form a union as even the courts recognized these players are de facto employees of the university.
O’Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs are trying to get current players the legal right to sell their names, images and likenesses to, basically, make the money off their own personal brands that the NCAA currently hordes for itself. The lawsuit was initially filed five years ago and is just now getting its day in court.
Granted, not all colleges and universities are making big-time bucks off athletics. Division II, III and NAIA schools continue to, mostly, observe the tenets of amateurism. But at the highest level, Division I, billions are being made, with schools, conferences and coaches all making the money — while the players are left out in the cold.
I’m not advocating paying athletes millions of dollars to compete, but I am suggesting perhaps they deserve some kind of stipend that enables them to live like the rest of the students on a college campus — if that is truly Emmert’s point of contention, that athletes are just like any other college student. College athletes are not allowed to hold jobs and even if they could, when would they have time to work? Going to class (presumably) and practice leaves little time for anything else. A “normal” student can work around their class schedule if they so choose to put a little spending money in their pockets. Why can’t a college athlete? Let’s face it, their sport is their job. They should be paid something for the work they put in.
“To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor league sports,” Emmert said.
Isn’t that what college sports already are, at least for the revenue-generating ones? Basketball players spending one year in college before jumping to the pros? Or football players jumping to the NFL three years after their high school graduation? Baseball players being drafted after their junior year? Reasonable and logical people understand that those athletes who harbor dreams of playing professionally use college as their training for that level — much like a student studying to be a doctor or lawyer. The purpose of college is to prepare students for their field of choice. How are college athletes any different?
Emmert believes that paying athletes would somehow ruin college athletics. No. What it would ruin is the cash cow that sees Emmert pulling in a salary of nearly $2 million, that sees coaches signing lucrative coaching contracts and endorsement deals, that sees athletic conferences sharing in the Coca-Cola, Gillette, Toyota and all the other sponsorship money these sports draw.
“They’re (student-athletes) not hired employees conducting games for entertainment,” Emmert went on to say.
Oh yeah? Could have fooled me, because that is exactly what it looks like.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.