Occupy college football, part two

Related Posts

Two weeks ago, I wrote that “the moniker ‘student-athlete’ has rung hollow for years.”

Apparently, officials at the highest echelons of the NCAA agree with me.

Some of the chief powerbrokers in collegiate athletics think the NCAA is on shaky ground by continuing to deny college athletes access to the money they generate, according to documents released through a pending antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA and reported by ESPN.

To be fair, these officials, including senior policy advisor Wallace Renfro and University of Nebraska Chancellor and former member of the association’s Board of Directors Harvey Perlman, have not commented on how and when the actual payment of funds should occur and what the quantity should be. Just that they find the system unequitable.

Perlman wrote that the NCAA’s current practices regarding commercial licensing agreements — through which the association allegedly takes advantage of the images and likenesses of college players for monetary gain — are “a disaster leading to catastrophe.” Renfro, who has worked with the NCAA since the 1970s, mulled in a 2010 memo to drop the “athlete” portion of the term altogether and allow players to hire agents, according to ESPN.

Some of this could be resolved if the lawsuit, which seeks to force the NCAA to compensate players for using their images and likenesses in commercial contexts (think EA Sports’ NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball video game franchises), proves successful. If courts compel the NCAA to distribute this money, it would be a first step towards a fiscal equality between athletes and administrators.

But this lawsuit and the surrounding discussion address just a piece of the overall money pie. Licensing fees for video games are all well and good, but equity won’t exist until athletes get a cut of the funds directly generated by their on-field performance.

After my column two weeks ago, in which I suggested that college football players deserve that cut, I knew I would have to revisit the topic. A commenter on the column raised several salient points (which, unfortunately, I don’t have enough space to respond to in this column) and a Facebook poll on the Daily Cal’s page showed overwhelming support for the status quo. Almost 90 percent of respondents voted “No” to the question: “Should college football players get paid?”

So there’s still some convincing to do.

The idea that college football players — and those in college basketball, the other money-making college sport — could get paid is still anathema to many people who  cling to the notion of the student-athlete and, more importantly, the student-athletes as an amateurs.

This, as I wrote before, is patently ridiculous.

Beyond the general work commitment, college football and basketball players are effectively in the minor leagues. While both the NFL and NBA do have systems like the United Football League or the NBA Development League, these are insignificant when you consider the entire enterprise. Unlike in baseball, where an established development system takes players from college through levels of professional games to the majors, the main entry point to pro football and basketball is through college.

This brings us full circle to the distress expressed by Perlman, Renfro and others. While the NCAA may have begun as a genuinely amateur endeavour, it has since exploded into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that cannot kid itself any longer about its true purpose: Student-athletes are, at best, students but more likely athletes.

The NCAA does not protect its athletes via any sort of educational mission, as it currently claims. Instead, it exploits them.

Contact Jordan at [email protected]