Regarding the NCAA and so-called exploitation

Based on this really well-done and informative piece from USA Today’s Steve Wieberg covering the pros and cons of enhancing scholarships for college athletes:

Like NCAA president Mark Emmert, I am against a pure salary for players (although I think he’s missing a key public relations point by continually saying the players aren’t paid. They are paid scholarships worth thousands of dollars), but I certainly am in favor of closing the loophole that exists with the scholarships and true cost of going to school, particularly because there are roadblocks that prevent student-athletes from bettering themselves in ways that the average student can (namely by getting a job).

I’m not offended by the salaries coaches make because the market seems to have dictated such sums of money be paid them, but if that’s a place to look to make up some of the cash needed to fill the loophole, I would not complain one bit.

But while the system could use numerous tweaks*, there is no denying the people on scholarship have a lot of enviable advantages that are often ignored by people who continually beat the drum about supposed athlete exploitation. Those people don’t do the cause any favors with their disconnection from reality (Hate to tell you this but most employers make a lot more money than they pay their employees), although they do manage to rile up some emotional support with their hyperbole, so I guess we have to give them some credit.

I see far more social and developmental opportunities in college than players would find in some hypothetical football minor league, and I’m guessing a nearly insignificant minority would receive more money during their first two or three years in that scenario than they are paid by their scholarship now. And when their careers are over, they would have nothing to fall back on, whether they had the foresight to want or take advantage of that or not. And I have no sympathy for the scholarship players who aren’t interested in getting an education. They have so much help they can hardly fail even if they try, and I knew plenty of “regular” students who weren’t all that interested at the time in school, either, but seemed to be there because they had nothing else to do or their parents simply expected them to be there. Now that they have gainful employment as a result, most of them are plenty happy they were pushed in a direction they might not have chosen on their own.

The bottom line for me is despite its numerous faults*, the current set up of college athletics benefits far more people than it hurts, whether we are talking about the players getting to do what they love in packed arenas or the people who love packing the arenas to watch them do what they love (because many fans share greater bond with old alma mater than they do random pro team X). The nonrevenue sport athletes are surely grateful, too, not to mention the local businesses and municipalities that see money flowing their way as a result of patronage of sports in their area.

If starting from scratch, would I create a system that depended so heavily on higher education to develop our nation’s best football and basketball players? Probably not. But we have a system that works on many levels for many people, so I find it more productive to talk about how we can make it better than worry about going in a completely new direction.

*I’d also argue that most of the complaints people have about the way the NCAA does business are more a result of the necessary bureaucracy any organization that size is going to be than any specific NCAA trait, so thinking we can start over again and do it much better is folly.

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