Madness, Inc.
March 28, 2019 12:32 PM   Subscribe

The NCAA system extracts wealth from collegiate athletes, many of whom are minorities, enriching a few while refusing to allow the players whose labor the system is built on to profit. We had a recent demonstration of this with Zion Williamson's injury due to a failed Nike sneaker (which he was required to wear due to a contract between Nike and his school), which many feared would derail his chances at going pro (and set off speculation that he would sit out the NCAA Tournament to protect himself.) Now, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) is presenting the case that it's time for this to end. (SLSports Illustrated)

The white paper that Senator Murphy has released discusses the current system, how it extracts wealth from the players, and how that wealth goes to enrich those at the top while players are outright prohibited from being able to make money on their name.

Previously. Previouslyer.
posted by NoxAeternum (74 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I went to UNC, I went to a friend's debate class final presentation. One of the topics was whether student athletes should be paid, and a prominent member of the basketball team who happened to be in the class made extremely convincing arguments for it. I'd never thought about the issue before that, but he totally sold me on it and I haven't read anything since that has changed my mind.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:50 PM on March 28, 2019 [14 favorites]


The NCAA should never have become the minor leagues/farm teams for professional sports in the first place.

But since disbandment of the NCAA and establishment of actual minor leagues for all professional sports is unlikely to happen, a second-best path forward is for the student-athletes to be paid for the income they generate.
posted by tclark at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2019 [18 favorites]


I find high level amateur athletics in general kind of gross in this regard -- the only person who isn't allowed to earn any money is the person who is actually doing the work? -- but NCAA basketball and football are distinctly terrible examples of the problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:12 PM on March 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


Amateurism is class warfare, quite literally - the concept was created as a means of shaming working class athletes who relied on being paid to compete.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:32 PM on March 28, 2019 [49 favorites]


I'd prefer for colleges not to be involved with sport at all, seems like the sort of thing there should be its own school for if we must have such a thing at all. In the meantime, these workers bodies are being exploited without compensation. Is there any organized sports organization out there that isn't abjectly immoral, unworthy of support, and reflects negatively morally on those who consume it? The NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA, etc all seem like businesses that we should work towards dismantling, yet AFAIK those entities all make billions of dollars a year with no sign of stopping.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


Athletes are already getting a free ride at these universities.

Student athletes getting paid will squander even more of a college's budget on big athletics instead of the purpose of the institution, which is to teach students.

Furthermore, how will it look to students going into debt to pursue academic subjects? The entire system should be disbanded and college athletics returned to their amateur status the way they are in Europe. Let the NBA and NFL fund minor leagues if they want them - then the people who "rely on being paid" can go do that.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:36 PM on March 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


Probably worth noting that collegiate athletics is a cesspool of corruption, from the gymnastics scandal to the “side door” admissions scam. Ugh, it’s all a mess.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:41 PM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Athletes are already getting a free ride at these universities."

That's not real compensation. College Athletes receive the barest of educations, just enough for the school to pretend they are offering an education in return for labor. It's complete and utter bullshit facade and even as someone who hates sports more than you can imagine, it hurts to see you falling for it on a personal level.

"Student athletes getting paid will squander even more of a college's budget on big athletics instead of the purpose of the institution, which is to teach students."

Alternatively, having to actually pay their exploited workers would mean the whole enterprise would become less profitable, thus encouraging a ramping down of it as a focus. Right now it's just free money for them. They don't have to pay their workers and their workers generate more money for the school and department.

IIRC there's an additional WTF element to this all, I think the NCAA or athletics departments of schools actually make more money than they know what to do with, but don't want to risk losing their budgets or whatever, so they engage in frivolous spending to make it appear as if they didn't have any surplus left over. They already make literally TOO MUCH money, to the point they waste it deliberately, meanwhile tens of thousands of workers go unpaid.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:48 PM on March 28, 2019 [43 favorites]


Athletes are already getting a free ride at these universities.

No, they are absolutely not, and the fact that you think that they are is part of the problem. Those athletes are receiving that "free ride" for the labor that they put out on the field or the court - labor that is making billions for others.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:49 PM on March 28, 2019 [51 favorites]


And if they're injured so badly that they can't play anymore, they don't get to keep their scholarships. Even if they aren't, that level of play takes a toll on all of their bodies, potentially causing health issues over the rest of their lives for which they will receive no financial support.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:52 PM on March 28, 2019 [35 favorites]


So why bother attending classes if you are paid to play a sport? Were they expecting to dodge the tax college players can now be claiming as employment? Should they be charged tuition as no longer qualifying for any financial aid if they no make more than fellow students? Throw in some Union benefits and each conference will need to collective bargain working conditions. If this works at the college level, how about the High School and Middle School athletes? Are we exploiting the 5 year old pee-wee teams or Little League World Series pitchers? The top 1% of players are going to get paid eventually, but the walk-on that is needed to help develop the team is going to be a real steal if they can work for free.
posted by brent at 1:53 PM on March 28, 2019


Athletes are already getting a free ride at these universities.

Student athletes getting paid will squander even more of a college's budget on big athletics instead of the purpose of the institution, which is to teach students.


Small schools generally do not have profitable athletics departments, with supplemental funding coming from student fees. However, the flip side of that coin is that in most states the highest paid public employees are the men's football and basketball coaches of flagship State U. And for most of the Big 5 schools (i.e. Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, PAC-12, and whichever the other one is), lucrative TV contracts have been acquired by these sports, the proceeds of which are not shared with labor. At all. I have a hard time with the presumption that 'free room and board and tuition' is meaningful compensation for laborers who are earning their employers multiple tens of millions of dollars per year.

the purpose of the institution, which is to teach students

While this may be the stated mission of these institutions, in practice their purpose is to increase revenue through tuition, research grants, and alumni donations, with the goal of building new buildings, increasing their stature, moving up the rankings, and so on, so they can raise tuition, get more research grants, solicit more alumni donations, etc.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:53 PM on March 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


Remember - the NCAA created the term "student-athlete" so they could avoid paying workman's compensation to players who were injured - and the widows of players killed on the field.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:54 PM on March 28, 2019 [27 favorites]


So why bother attending classes if you are paid to play a sport?

Uh... make it a condition of their continued membership on the team?
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:55 PM on March 28, 2019


" Are we exploiting the 5 year old pee-wee teams"

We would be if there was a daycare center you sent the kids to, in return for the "free" daycare, they pimp your child out for sport exhibition. and make a million bucks off of the tikes back.

"Uh... make it a condition of their continued membership on the team?"

This is just another element of the problem. The athletes are faciley considered students, many of them are not interested in the education, and the school likewise would prefer not to put on the front if it were not necessary in the scheme to not pay or support their workers as they should.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:57 PM on March 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


We would be if there was a daycare center you sent the kids to, in return for the "free" daycare, they pimp your child out for sport exhibition. and make a million bucks off of the tikes back.

I'm not the most sports-friendly parent out there, so take this with several grains of salt, but... I find your joke dystopia disturbingly plausible. I have the impression that youth sports is (or can be) about the adults to a sort of creepy degree.
posted by eirias at 2:01 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sonny Vaccaro helped create the current NCAA Basketball monstrosity. Now he hopes to help disassemble the monster he helped create.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2019


I find your joke dystopia disturbingly plausible. I have the impression that youth sports is (or can be) about the adults to a sort of creepy degree.

Very much so, as we saw with the whole Nassar affair. The whole sports pipeline is a mess. But a large part of the problem is the NCAA, which goes out of its way to beat down players - for example, they (rather illegally) prohibit players from retaining agents, who would otherwise be able to help and advise them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:05 PM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


And the price to pay, also, is that those students are shoved so hard at practice after practice after practice that they often don't have time to focus on their studies. There aren't enough hours in the day. How are you supposed to get an education when you are also expected to devote 30 or 40 hours a week to an extremely physical and exhausting side job? At my institution, we have rules in place to prevent undergraduate researchers or work study employees from working more than 20 hours per week, on the theory that they won't be able to focus on their studies if they do. There is no such protection for athletes. Why?

We know why.

Besides, how are you supposed to keep up with your education if you're constantly being hauled across the country to compete every five minutes? Student athletes are often difficult from an instructor perspective because we have to structure very frequent absences around them, as many as might be expected from a student struggling with a health crisis. Accommodating this is a lot of work, and no matter how understanding the instructor, students still suffer from the loss of class time. Yes, even in the big lecture sections--absences mean students don't have access to instructor office hours, and faculty and staff often come in frustrated and resentful because we can see exactly how little the Athletics department contributes to the rest of us, and here's another little example of a drain on us. Which is not, in fact, the student's fault. So the athletes are funneled into courses that are widely derided as worthless both inside the university and out, because then the pretense at the education provided to them can be minimized from draining the athlete's real purpose for attending the school.
posted by sciatrix at 2:12 PM on March 28, 2019 [25 favorites]


Athletes are already getting a free ride at these universities.

also:

Were they expecting to dodge the tax college players can now be claiming as employment?


Actually, college players are already expected to pay taxes on at least some of their scholarship. While the portion used to pay tuition, etc. is untaxed, the portion used to pay room and board is. So that swank spread on the training table? Taxed.

So let's be clear: the IRS already treats this stuff as taxable income. They treat it is a job. So it's not a question of whether we're paying them, but whether they're being paid an amount commensurate with the revenue they help generate for their schools.

(I will point out, unfortunately, that when we start paying student-athletes, the question of revenue generated becomes relevant, every bit as much as the question of paying the US Women's Soccer Team an amount commensurate with the revenue they generate. How that interfaces with Title IX is a hell of an ask.)
posted by parliboy at 2:12 PM on March 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


The easiest way to solve the Title IX problems is to just remove the restrictions for licensing and other income that are not put on any other scholarship student at the university.

So much time and money is wasted for policing this as well, to absolutely no effect. Make it public and a lot of the scumminess gets washed away by just being up front about it.
posted by jmauro at 2:18 PM on March 28, 2019


The athletes are faciley considered students, many of them are not interested in the education,

I think that puts the blame for poor education of athletes in the wrong spot. Even if a student athlete in an elite program is entirely interested in their education, the commitment they have to make to the athletic program stands in their way of succeeding in a regular, non-athletic degree program.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:33 PM on March 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


So much time and money is wasted for policing this as well, to absolutely no effect. Make it public and a lot of the scumminess gets washed away by just being up front about it.

A California state senator proposed making NIL restrictions illegal in California, which would make the NCAA's rules pretty much unenforceable.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:35 PM on March 28, 2019


Even if a student athlete in an elite program is entirely interested in their education, the commitment they have to make to the athletic program stands in their way of succeeding in a regular, non-athletic degree program.

Not only that, but a number of athletes have reported that they have had coaches threaten their scholarships for having the temerity...to take more challenging courses.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:36 PM on March 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


At least college athletes have a maximum number of hours per week they are allowed to spend on their sports, within which they have to get all their training activities completed. A token gesture towards the fig-leaf of “amateurism”, but at least it exists.

No such restrictions exist for high school athletes. Not in basketball, not in football.

If kids are already training this hard for the chance to be an unpaid athletic apprentice, how will the prospect of a college paycheck affect things? If kids are gonna work this hard this early, maybe getting a paycheck earlier for all the bodily wear and tear is not such a bad idea.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:50 PM on March 28, 2019


The easiest way to solve the Title IX problems is to just remove the restrictions for licensing and other income that are not put on any other scholarship student at the university.

It's a bit harder than that.

Either these young men and young women will have scholarships with the school, or they will have jobs, If it's a scholarship, everyone receives the same pay from the school. If it's a job, expect everyone to be paid commensurate to the income they bring into the school. Some athletes will be paid far more than the current value of their scholarship. Some will be paid less than the current value of their scholarship.

So I put out to the room this question: do you want these students to have scholarships, or jobs? Because "both" isn't an answer the market will support.
posted by parliboy at 2:56 PM on March 28, 2019


So I put out to the room this question: do you want these students to have scholarships, or jobs? Because "both" isn't an answer the market will support.

"Both" is actually the answer we currently see today, given the markedly different treatment of revenue sports athletes versus non-revenue sports athletes.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:02 PM on March 28, 2019


Hmm, really? Maybe you could make it that athletes can only be paid after they have already received a full ride scholarship? And then require that dollars on scholarship spending be split equally by gender. So, you can't pay the football player unless you give him a full ride, and to give scholarship money you have to give an equal amount to women too.

It's still not enough, but it might be a way to protect some of title IX, while also compensating athletes for what they help their schools earn.
posted by nat at 3:04 PM on March 28, 2019


I have family that are HUGE boosters of college teams. If those teams were put out of business tomorrow it would be emotionally devastating to them. I mean that in every sense you want to interpret it. Lives would be upended.

And, as the marshal said to the fugitive "I don't care." That emotional trauma means absolutely nothing to me when wheighed against an actual person's body.
posted by East14thTaco at 4:33 PM on March 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


If students are paid, the first thing that will happen will be huge paychecks for some male basketball players and football players, and nothing for almost everyone else.

Also, as huge amounts of revenue will then flow to some of these players, the scholarships of women soccer and tennis and pole vaulting athletes -- all the sports that are not bringing in TV dollars and huge funds from boosters -- could become at risk.

I like the idea of paying players -- it's only fair, particularly when they are putting their bodies and sometimes literally lives on the line. However, surely paying them will bring up huge other problems that need to be solved. What seems to me ideal is to eliminate the system of college athletics as a minor league altogether -- maybe by prohibiting athletic scholarships to begin with. But that idea would be dead in the water.

A more incrementalist idea would be to allow college players to sell their likeness, which seems like a good half step to me.
posted by lewedswiver at 5:20 PM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


I taught an undergraduate sociology class in which 1/6th of my students played on the football team. Given the geographic isolation of the university (O'ahu), their travel schedules alone were punishing. Put practices and games on top of that. In order to maintain eligibility to play, they had to pass a certain number of classes a semester. The football team has tutors, but their job (as far as I could tell) was to make sure that the star athletes maintained eligibility, whether it was by writing their final papers, or whatever. Non-star athletes on the football team were left to muddle through on their own. They spent the whole semester panicked that they might lose eligibility and be benched.

And yet the only student who passed the class was a bench warmer who didn't travel with the team. Every other student on the football team turned in so few assignments that I gave them incompletes because I couldn't even ethically fail them given how little time football left them for school.

One student suffered a concussion in Week 4 or so of the semester, and could not read without severe pain for another few weeks. Another student came into my office hours and confessed that he had been kicked out of his apartment and was currently homeless. A student came near the end of the semester nearly in tears because he gotten a scan showing that he had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

For qualifying for a post-season bowl, the students got to pick out some Ray-Bans and other trinkets as a celebration.

I AM SO %$(*&@)*#! ANGRY AT THE NCAA. I am still furious at the coaches and the school that sacrifice the schooling and health of these students.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:59 PM on March 28, 2019 [37 favorites]


So why bother attending classes if you are paid to play a sport?

They often practically already don't in the sort of big-money athletics people have in mind when they are making these arguments.

The only thing that makes the right thing to do here less than extremely obvious, to me, is the issue that a few people have already brought up of figuring out how to scale fairly to sports that don't make a ton of money or schools where sports are not a big deal and student athletes are actually students first.
posted by atoxyl at 8:44 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


a while ago i heard charles barkley say there should be dedicated schools kids can attend if they want to be pro-athletes. rather than the US's college sports system, it would be fairer if it was more like europe's club systems (or like the US tennis assc?) made sense to me.
posted by kliuless at 11:07 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


This is the same system that some are arguing should be entirely tax payer funded, all tuition free for students. That just further opens a funding spigot for sports since colleges will be drawing off direct government funding instead of student payments and loans, where there is at least some pushback against rising costs, even if only minimally effective. Without that check college sports will take on an even greater role in the system as more money flows to paying everyone involved. With 41 of 50 states highest paid public employee already a college coach, there's no reason to think there'd be any brake on spending for sports should colleges get that opportunity.

To what end? Worry about the star players who are losing out on money stolen by a corrupt system? Zion Williamson will be a multi-millionaire in a short while, barring unforeseen events, so framing the concern in this fashion is one of worry over soon to be wealthy people getting access to money they deserve earlier. Undoubtedly more fair to those players, but far from the most pressing concerns the college system faces around inequity, just the one most noticeable for the obscene status sports and celebrity has in the culture.

College sports need to be completely severed from public universities. They should only exist as separate promotional organizations funded by boosters for the university with no tax money involved at all and no way for general college funds to find their way to the system. There should be no "extra credit" given in admissions to people who play sports, any more than there would be for students who devoted their energies to any other activity outside of schoolwork. Public institutions should not be competing against each other for students, they should not be able to turn away or choose students on anything but first come first serve class size availability when the otherwise necessary requirements to attend any public school have been fulfilled.

College students and athletes should bot get any added support that non-students do not also receive in some different form as that only increases inequity in the long run between the haves and have nots. Paying some to attend college and ignoring those who don't or can't attend more than doubles the imbalance between college students and non-students, with the former getting free funding to receive better job opportunities in the end. Money up front and better jobs with greater opportunity for increased lifetime income that non-students see none of.

A severed college sport system would be a work system where athletes get paid as universities wouldn't be able to offer scholarships or added incentives through their educational budget. Athletes would go where they get the best offers like any other sports and also attend college without conflict over their status as professionals or could choose not to play and focus on classes if they met the same standards for acceptance and work other students faced. There is no compelling reason that athletes deserve special accommodation or concern over being able to get into colleges than non-athletes would face, including those of equally difficult financial circumstances, which should be the sole focus of financial aid and scholarships until such a point where colleges aren't treated as the gateway to privilege they currently are, favoring the select few.

That's only one small part of the many problems the university system needs to correct. One could as easily point to the way TAs are treated and how colleges profit off their labor for example. Other students also do extra-circular activities like in the arts or add to the schools prestige and wealth through working in scientific research and they'd deserve pay for their labors if they were taken just as labor rather than as the recognition of corruption not providing an adequate trickle down effect for those doing the work to keep it in business.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:42 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


College athletes should be paid. But that should also entail all athletics funding being comprehensively separated from the academic institutions - you do not want to create a system where astronomically high tuition fees get you even less education, because it's all being spent on sports. Force a total separation of the colleges and sports teams, and pay the athletes.
posted by Dysk at 4:17 AM on March 29, 2019


And if they're injured so badly that they can't play anymore, they don't get to keep their scholarships.

And they can also be stuck with their medical expenses.
posted by TedW at 5:44 AM on March 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


At the moment, I think the role big college sports is playing is loosening donor dollars from alumni. I was once at a fundraising event that was nominally to benefit my research group, but over the course of the evening it became apparent that the people who showed up just wanted a chance to schmooze with the athletic director who was also in attendance. This happened while the whole Jerry Sandusky thing was going down and it gave me some context for understanding that — I imagine Penn State thought that keeping the scandal hidden from view was going to be the easiest way to keep the donor dollars flowing. Perhaps at a public institution there is also the desire to keep voters engaged with the university so that they will elect friendly legislators. Televised college sports makes people elsewhere in the state feel a part of things. Or so, I imagine, the theory goes.

I’m interested in the comments above trying to project what would happen in college athletics if college were free to students. I’m trying to trace it out myself. Without tuition dollars, it seems to me that public universities would be even more reliant on donors and voters than they are now. That on its own might increase the pressure to make Fuzzy McMascot an ever-more central part of marketing. And free tuition would on its own take away the value of the sports scholarship, which might itself militate for athlete pay, even without any kind of labor action (how else to attract the good players?). I don’t think universal free tuition is likely, though.
posted by eirias at 6:11 AM on March 29, 2019


If students are paid, the first thing that will happen will be huge paychecks for some male basketball players and football players, and nothing for almost everyone else

Well the basketball and football programs at Big 10 schools often finance ALL THE OTHER SPORTS either through attracting donations or their TV and merchandising deals. Some of these schools ( University of Florida) are clearing profits in the tens of millions. Those schools should be the first to hand their players a paycheck since their student athletes' skills are covering the tab for a city-sized university's whole athletic program.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 6:27 AM on March 29, 2019


To what end? Worry about the star players who are losing out on money stolen by a corrupt system? Zion Williamson will be a multi-millionaire in a short while, barring unforeseen events, so framing the concern in this fashion is one of worry over soon to be wealthy people getting access to money they deserve earlier.

I always am amazed at how cavalier people are about outright theft, as long as it's happening to people that can be framed as "soon to be wealthy". Never mind that one of the big reasons that Williamson's shoe blowout became the big story it did in part because of the scare that it could have been career ending, which is why there was serious talk over whether he should play in the NCAA Tournament, and further risk his chance of getting that payday.

And the fact that many of the athletes involved (like Williamson) are black makes this attitude worse. As Senator Murphy pointed out, this is a civil rights issue. This is literally a case of wealth being extracted from largely black bodies to enrich a few at the top, while denying those who are generating the wealth all but a very meager share of that wealth.

(By the way, those of you who want the NBA to stop using colleges as farm leagues - you got your wish. The NBA is phasing out the rule stopping players from being drafted out of high school.)

Other students also do extra-circular activities like in the arts or add to the schools prestige and wealth through working in scientific research and they'd deserve pay for their labors if they were taken just as labor rather than as the recognition of corruption not providing an adequate trickle down effect for those doing the work to keep it in business.

This shows the general lack of awareness of how controlling the NCAA is. A student working in the arts is able to take commissions or otherwise work professionally while still being a student - they can sell a painting or a story, take professional acting roles, etc.

Athletes are restricted by the NCAA in making money. When I was looking at colleges and considering continuing on with wrestling, the NCAA limited all collegiate level athletes under their auspices to earning $2000 per year. And from what I understand, the limit, while higher now, isn't much higher.

So no, the situation is vastly worse for athletes than it is for other college students, because other college students aren't told that they can only make so much money per year. Not to mention the ludicrous (and often blatantly racist) ways the NCAA tries to oversee all this.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:30 AM on March 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


Well the basketball and football programs at Big 10 schools often finance ALL THE OTHER SPORTS either through attracting donations or their TV and merchandising deals.

And to continue harping on a point that needs to be sorely pointed out, many of the athletes in the revenue sports are minorities, while athletes in non-revenue sports are mostly...not. There's a reason one college football team's players referred to the athletic department's building as "the plantation", and it wasn't for anything good.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:42 AM on March 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


And to continue harping on a point that needs to be sorely pointed out, many of the athletes in the revenue sports are minorities, while athletes in non-revenue sports are mostly...not.

Thank you for saying this! As the Varsity Blues scandal has shown us, sports like crew, sailing, and water polo are the pathway rich dum-dums take to get into elite schools. I find it galling that people are treating minority students who've been training since age 10 like thieves for wanting to be compensated, while not considering how their presence allows the wealthy but academically mediocre to get on campus.

(BTW, I want rich dum-dums to get in college the old-fashioned way--make their parents endow departments, buy libraries, and start scholarships. So the schools actually benefit from their presence.)
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 6:56 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I always am amazed at how cavalier people are about outright theft, as long as it's happening to people that can be framed as "soon to be wealthy". Never mind that one of the big reasons that Williamson's shoe blowout became the big story it did in part because of the scare that it could have been career ending, which is why there was serious talk over whether he should play in the NCAA Tournament, and further risk his chance of getting that payday.

I can understand why you'd take that as what I meant, but that wasn't the point I was getting at in a direct sense. I agree about the theft and corrupt nature of college sports entirely, but there is also a constant drive to frame the issue as being a broad based concern for minority welfare when its simultaneously being limited or framed to talk about star athletes. Why should I be worried about Zion when there are so many more people without his skills who don't get any shot at college scholarships, even as Zion is likely a one and done anyway? His shoe blows out last year and ends his ability to play and he's still in high school and gets nothing, next year and he's in the NBA and gets his first pick contract money and then he's on his own. At the same time most minority students aren't getting anything like the same level of support, which, for the worst off financially, needs to start well before high school to even keep pace.

The prohibition against athletes earning money is obviously bullshit and needs to go, the issue for me is how that should happen and why I think there are problems in simply paying athletes for their labor as if its of a different realm of activity then that of other students. The linked paper is right in diagnosing the problem, but I'm not all that satisfied with the solution suggested.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:05 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I agree about the theft and corrupt nature of college sports entirely, but there is also a constant drive to frame the issue as being a broad based concern for minority welfare when its simultaneously being limited or framed to talk about star athletes.

Because the issue with college athletes needing to be paid is very much tied up with racial animus. This has literally been studied, and the studies show that there is a direct correlation between racial animus and opposition to paying players. In addition, the arguments that minority students need better support and that elite collegiate athletes (many of whom are black) having wealth extracted from them without fair compensation are mutually exclusive. We can (and should!) argue both.

The prohibition against athletes earning money is obviously bullshit and needs to go, the issue for me is how that should happen and why I think there are problems in simply paying athletes for their labor as if its of a different realm of activity then that of other students.

Except that right now, the only group of students who are restricted from selling their labor as a group are athletes. If you are a student in a music program - you can pick up gigs. If you are in a fine arts program, you can take commissions. If you are a journalism student, you can sell stories. And so on. It is only athletes who are prohibited from selling their labor, and the point of letting them do so is to remove them from being an outlier.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:28 AM on March 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


Letting them sell their labour is different to paying them to play for the college, though, which is what most people are arguing for.

I can totally see the argument for not paying student athletes if you aren't paying student musicians or whatever either. Which is why I support just professionalising the whole thing, making it independent from colleges.
posted by Dysk at 7:32 AM on March 29, 2019


Letting them sell their labour is different to paying them to play for the college, though, which is what most people are arguing for.

One, no, it isn't. It's all the same argument - "fuck you, pay me".

Two, if schools are forcing other students to render professional services for free - see point one.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:40 AM on March 29, 2019


If playing for the school football team is labour that should be compensated, then so is playing for the school orchestra or whatever. That the music students can do side gigs while the footballers can't is indeed awful. But paying the footballers (which I agree they should!) isn't bringing them level with everyone else.
posted by Dysk at 7:43 AM on March 29, 2019


If playing for the school football team is labour that should be compensated, then so is playing for the school orchestra or whatever. That the music students can do side gigs while the footballers can't is indeed awful. But paying the footballers (which I agree they should!) isn't bringing them level with everyone else.

Yes, it is. Marquee college athletics is not just a "side club", but very much a full time job, with players required to spend the equivalent of a full time job on it (practices, weight training, watching film, etc.) And in cases where other students are in the same sort of position, the school should also be paying them as well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Except that right now, the only group of students who are restricted from selling their labor as a group are athletes.

Right, I get what you're saying and I don't disagree. The problem is that if you do pay athletes for their labor the stars then the rest of the system comes into question for paying them and not the others. The additional problems being that paying star athletes what they're worth means approximating pro sports contracts for the best players, which has enormous problems for the system as a whole, or not paying them what they're worth, which is still perpetuating the same problem just with some added ability to deny it for making any payment.

I also completely agree about racial animus, just add that there is a complimentary bias is linking blacks to sports as if that's their natural way into the college system and only point of concern, which is also racial bias.

Colleges shouldn't be in the sports business at all is my starting point of belief. There are enormous problems with professional sports and the paths to reach them and with the college system for students without considering sports at all. Student athletes are treated unfairly and that should be remedied, but the best remedy in my belief isn't in just paying them but severing the business of sports from colleges. Absent that the players should be allowed to make money in whatever ways they like, including selling their likenesses, just like any other student. There shouldn't be anything special about a athlete's status in any way. But leaving it at that doesn't fix the problem, it just momentarily mitigates it and likely will cause new problems for the system later on.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's probably also worth mentioning that intercollegiate athletics are only moneymakers for a handful of schools.

If you're not one of the top-15ish schools, NCAA sports are almost definitely a net-negative on the university's budget, even before any externalities or indirect costs are factored in.
posted by schmod at 8:00 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


And in cases where other students are in the same sort of position, the school should also be paying them as well.

That's an important caveat, and makes it level. Without it, you're placing college athletics above other effectively professionalised (but unpaid) college activities.

I still think the easiest and least problematic solution is, as gusottertrout suggests, to formally professionalise as an independent minor league.
posted by Dysk at 8:00 AM on March 29, 2019


Why should I be worried about Zion when there are so many more people without his skills who don't get any shot at college scholarships, even as Zion is likely a one and done anyway?

I think people are more worried about the players who get injured or never quite make it to or in the pros and thus never really get that promised payday? Williamson is in the conversation just because everyone seeing the most talked-about college player get hurt in a totally freak incident is a strong reminder of the general precariousness of sports careers.
posted by atoxyl at 9:18 AM on March 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


It's a non sequitur to compare athletes and musicians. Members of college ensembles are typically music majors - students pursuing a degree in music, where being skillful at performing is one of the desired outcomes of the program. In that context, recitals are not unpaid labor; rather they are more like practical exams. Maybe it's weird that schools often sell tickets to performances, but that's quite different from the sports-educational complex. In the latter case, members of the team are usually pursuing a degree which is orthogonal to their athletic performance. Exceptions are students majoring in sports management, physical therapy, exercise science, and so on. For those students, having access to competitive sports teams does in fact support their education.

Of course, many college-age people like to be athletic and play sports, and that would happen whether there was big money in it or not. The real problem in my opinion is cultural. The idea that people with no connection to a university live and breathe that school's athletic accomplishments is so weird to me. It's fun to watch good athletes perform. But why would the outcome have any bearing on a spectator's sense of self as it so clearly does??
posted by dbx at 9:30 AM on March 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Given that the eventual goal of many elite college athletes is professional sports, it's not entirely batshit to see access to training and coaching as somewhat analogous to musicians getting access to conductors and regular (if unpaid) gigs. Getting good at performing music is the goal for one group, getting good at performing in their sport for the other. One is more formalised than the other, usually, so they're not exactly the same, but I maintain that there are greater parallels than you're suggesting.
posted by Dysk at 9:35 AM on March 29, 2019


The additional problems being that paying star athletes what they're worth means approximating pro sports contracts for the best players, which has enormous problems for the system as a whole,

And what are those problems, exactly? Because every time I hear this argument, it winds up being a paean to the purity of academia - an argument that, after hearing story after story of the abuses within, carries no weight for me. In fact, having a system similar to pro contracts would fix many of the problems with college athletics, such as the abusive single year scholarship system, oversigning, etc.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2019


but I maintain that there are greater parallels than you're suggesting.

Not really. In basketball, at least, the top players (like Williamson) are just there because they need someplace to be for the year before they become eligible to go pro - hence the term "one and done". And ultimately it's been a failed experiment for the NBA, which is why they're killing the rule and moving to allow high school players to declare for the draft. Football is a bit different, but that's mainly because high school players are physically not ready to go into the NFL.

But the big difference which keeps getting elided over is how the student generates revenue for the school. For most, that's simple - tuition. But for revenue athletes, they do so through actual labor - and that changes the dynamic completely.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:45 AM on March 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Disparate Impact" applies to Title IX. If a school institutes payment for athletes and the men get more money than the women, Title IX will come into play.
posted by billm at 10:30 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


If a school institutes payment for athletes and the men get more money than the women, Title IX will come into play.

How, exactly? Again, note that it is fully legal to pay men and women in different roles different amounts. Again, this illustrates the whole problem with the term "student-athlete" - it's a term used to obscure the actual relationship between the school and the athlete.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:46 AM on March 29, 2019


But the big difference which keeps getting elided over is how the student generates revenue for the school. For most, that's simple - tuition. But for revenue athletes, they do so through actual labor - and that changes the dynamic completely.

The revenue they generate mostly benefits the athletic departments, and the companies who benefit directly off of the student-athlete.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:50 AM on March 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


The revenue they generate mostly benefits the athletic departments, and the companies who benefit directly off of the student-athlete.

Which is completely orthogonal to the argument that collegiate athletes in marquee sports (who are in a relationship more akin to employment than student/college) are not the same as students in professional programs which include professional performances.

I find it illustrative that when the topic of how college athletes in marquee sports are having their labor stolen from them, there are so many people who want to argue that the problem is actually that the school is making money off of them in the first place.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:01 AM on March 29, 2019


Athletic departments are pretty good at keeping money earned directly off college sports in their own budgets, and out of any general funds. This includes corporate and general donations, which always seem to be directly targeted towards athletics or towards schools. They also seem to find ways to get schools to pick up costs like student-athlete housing, or training table (athlete-specific meals).
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2019




I find it illustrative that when the topic of how college athletes in marquee sports are having their labor stolen from them, there are so many people who want to argue that the problem is actually that the school is making money off of them in the first place.

Yeah it's almost like some of us think the best solution is to clarify their status by making them professional athletes and just dropping the student pretense.
posted by Dysk at 11:20 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


If it means anything, college football and the culture around it came of age in the late 19th century, when top schools like Harvard and Yale had teams that dominated the national sports scene.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:30 AM on March 29, 2019


And what are those problems, exactly? Because every time I hear this argument, it winds up being a paean to the purity of academia - an argument that, after hearing story after story of the abuses within, carries no weight for me. In fact, having a system similar to pro contracts would fix many of the problems with college athletics, such as the abusive single year scholarship system, oversigning, etc.

I'm not sure there's any place to go with the argument Nox because there isn't much of one other than you seem to want to make college sports professional and I would like to see the business of sports removed from colleges. The arguments and/or problems colleges and sports have beyond that are potentially many, but that seems to be the main sticking point in regards to this particular discussion about the two things together.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:38 AM on March 29, 2019


I'm not sure there's any place to go with the argument Nox because there isn't much of one other than you seem to want to make college sports professional and I would like to see the business of sports removed from colleges.

My point is that I keep hearing that "the business of sports" should be removed from colleges, but not a lot of reasoning as to why. Colleges and sports and the business thereof have been intertwined since the era of John Heisman himself.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:53 PM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


but not a lot of reasoning as to why

Running farm teams for professional sports leagues is not an important activity for a state government.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:14 PM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Most professional sports teams hold drafts for eligible players. Would the college programs now have a 1000 round draft for high school players that declare to the new SEC/B10/ACC/Big 12 sports leagues?Would like to see the reaction to being mister irrelevant in college? Would Michael Jordan ever commit to play for Houston if he was drafted to an NCAA team?
posted by brent at 2:11 PM on March 29, 2019


I find it illustrative that when the topic of how college athletes in marquee sports are having their labor stolen from them, there are so many people who want to argue that the problem is actually that the school is making money off of them in the first place.

I honestly do not know what this is supposed to illustrate? It sure sounds like two sides of the same problem - that collegiate sports are structured to allow schools to make a ton of money without paying athletes. If your main point is that you think it's simply more feasible to reform the current system to get athletes paid than to replace the NCAA with a legit minor league I think that's an entirely reasonable line of argument but you could be more direct about it.
posted by atoxyl at 2:37 PM on March 29, 2019


By the way, those of you who want the NBA to stop using colleges as farm leagues - you got your wish. The NBA is phasing out the rule stopping players from being drafted out of high school.

I didn't exactly get my wish. I'm aware that they're phasing out that rule but there are plenty of young athletes who need a few more years to grow and develop before they're ready for the NBA. In the meantime, what do they do? They go to a university, become a basketball star, and make a shit ton of money for a lot of people other than themselves.

When I said they need minor leagues for professional sports, I meant just that.
posted by tclark at 6:58 PM on March 29, 2019


My point is that I keep hearing that "the business of sports" should be removed from colleges, but not a lot of reasoning as to why

Donations to professional sports teams should not be tax deductible.
posted by Dysk at 8:12 PM on March 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


If the quote from the paper "The highest paid public employees in 41 out of 50 states are coaches" doesn't automatically signal a huge part of the problem, I don't know what will.

Paying basketball players anything like fair wages wouldn't just act as a minor league for the NBA, but put college teams in competition with it at the public expense. There will certainly be bidding wars for players at that juncture, which is great for the players and maybe for the sport, but had fuck all to do with education. Financing an NFL minor league system at public expense is, if anything, even more disgusting for the NFL not paying/treating their own players fairly. There's simply no reason that these things should be part of the public expense. If boosters want to fund sports teams for colleges, great! Go for it! I'm even okay with the stadium use being given for free to the teams and some of the facility use if other students also have equal access and there is no other compensation going from the colleges to the teams.

The bigger question though is over what is the vision of college in the country and how do we achieve the best results for everyone to suit their varying needs. Right now colleges are viewed in a contradictory, irrational, and ultimately untenable way. They act as "elite" institutions, not egalitarian ones, while the ever increasing public demand is for the opposite, where everyone goes to college under the misguided belief that everyone getting a degree will equal everyone getting a better job. These things can't work together especially given the astonishing depth of the student loan crisis and the constantly rising costs of tuition.

The university attitude is that they deign to allow a select group of individuals to pay for the privilege of attending their campuses. The student serves the needs of the college and they select those who can attend bases on those they deem most likely to succeed, which is to say those who least need the assistance colleges might provide. The public need is the opposite, colleges should exist for the students to gain the skills needed for the best chance of making a living in the world. These values, needless to say, are in serious conflict and can't be easily resolved. Athletics are only one small but significant part of the problem.

Athletes should be able to attend college just like anyone else. They shouldn't have to play sports to be let in. They shouldn't go to college just as a way for pro sports to offload their payroll to public expense. There should be no bar to entering college save for a high school degree, anything other is reinforcing a meritocracy that benefits the few over the many. Public expenditure shouldn't be giving added benefit to those who little need it at the expense of those who do, but that is a major part of how universities operate. Fixing the university system goes far beyond sports and fixing the sports industry goes far beyond colleges, but the current mix doesn't work and has been under criticism since the time it first arose, so appeals to history or tradition don't do much for me either. (And I say that as someone who likes college and most sports, just not the business between them.)
posted by gusottertrout at 11:32 PM on March 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Origin of term "Student-athlete" (from blog post):
Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, served from 1951 to 1958. During his time he made some great changes to college athletics, including helping to expand the number of teams in the college basketball tournament. In his 1995 book ‘Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes’, Byers states that the NCAA invented the term “student-athlete” to get out of paying worker’s comp for injured players, guarding themselves from anyone who would try to prove that the athletes were employees.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:29 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


And today, the head of the NCAA had to clarify that no, a wedding registry does not constitute an impermissible benefit.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:43 PM on April 4, 2019


College Athletes of the World, Unite - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Jacobin.
posted by Lyme Drop at 11:28 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


« Older For The Exhausted and Overwhelmed.   |   . . .the choice is to keep the actor who speaks in... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments