What the NCAA should have said

So, let’s face it: PR is not the NCAA’s strong suit. Of all the things the organization struggles with, this might be No. 1. Of all the people guilty of a lack of nuance when discussing issues surrounding major college athletics, the NCAA’s spokespeople (be they official or de facto) could be the worst offenders.

We are reminded of this every time they simply deny athletes should be paid rather than point out they already are (and have been almost from the beginning)  paid,  and yesterday’s response from the organization following the news that football players at Northwestern have started an effort to unionize probably did nothing but blow a bigger hole in the organization’s credibility on this issue with the general public. 

I am not authorized to speak for the NCAA, but I thought they could use the assist anyway.
I am not authorized to speak for the NCAA, but I thought they could use the assist anyway.

The NCAA would have been wiser to follow the lead of Northwestern AD Jim Phillips or offer something like this:

We agree athletes should have a say in legislation that directly affects them. We are open to providing longterm medical benefits, and beefing up the insurance we provide as these are all common-sense measures. 

Full cost of attendance has been a topic of discussion recently, and we continue to work toward developing a workable solution to this problem that has festered for too long. 

Noteworthy representatives such as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany have brought these and more issues to the public’s attention in the past year, but we must admit our actions have been plodding at best. 

That is one of the negatives of being a large, multifaceted organization such as we are, but we are working now more earnestly than in recent memory to modernize policies and expand our support for those most important members of our communities – student-athletes. 

(At this point, we feel it might be appropriate to point out our functional quirks could serve as a warning to involving an even larger, more diverse and arguably more dysfunctional legislative body – the federal government. Hey, at least we operate at a profit!) 

Like most Americans, we prefer our autonomy to being told what to do, and we believe in due time we can work out our problems on our own without thepotential unintended consequences of government oversight

As it stands now, players receive not only free tuition* but also a stipend to cover living expenses*. They also are the beneficiaries of free training at what are often world-class facilities* from leaders* in the field of strength and conditioning. The result of their hard work is then displayed nationally on television, just one of many platforms on which our schools promote their names and stories. This free publicity* serves not only those who wish to continue playing sports when they are finished with their college careers but also those men and women who go into other professional practices, such as insurance, marketing, sales and other private businesses that benefit from name recognition developed while playing collegiate athletics as well as, of course, the education provided in their chosen field.  

They do not pay taxes on any of these benefits. 

In conclusion, while we often struggle to play up these aspects of the college student-athlete experience and instead cling to tired, perhaps false rhetoric that lost its effectiveness years ago, we believe strongly that we provide many positive benefits to thousands of young men and women every year that are not necessarily found in the typical employer-employee relationship. 

While this system is in need of serious adjustments, we are in the process of investigating and instituting reform and we appreciate your patience. Whether we have earned that patience or not, we believe it will result in a system that works out better for all of us – student-athletes most of all – without some significant compromises that would likely be required if this fundamental change the Northwestern athletes are seeking were to become reality. 

*Funded by our various lucrative licensing and broadcast deals.

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