I’m not in the habit of defending those who are immensely talented and belong to a seemingly privileged class. Normally, they can fend for themselves.
But I don’t like bullies. And I really don’t like it when they defend amateurism while making billions off the sweat, concussions, broken bones, herniated discs and torn ACLs of those amateurs.
The NCAA is nothing more than a fast-talking bully with a good legal team. Executives prey on the public’s abhorrence of ingrates to deflect any discussion regarding compensation for student-athletes on scholarships.
Such as: those greedy student-athletes. They get full scholarships, room and board to play a game they love and then talk about deserving more? How vulgar.
I might agree with the NCAA policy to not pay its athletes except that the unrelenting drive to commercialize college athletes is far more repulsive than anything a boorish college kid could dream up.
This week the Pac-10 Conference signed an industry-record media rights contract — 12 years, $2.8 billion — with ESPN and Fox starting in 2012-13 that will eventually triple its current TV revenues to televise football and men’s basketball and to own the rights to the women’s basketball championship. Also announced was the creation of the Pac-12 Network, which will televise some revenue-sport games but mostly non-revenue sports.
The NCAA already has a deal to receive $10.8 billion through 2024 for the rights to televise March Madness. That’s more than $250 million per tournament weekend. When the deal was done in April 2010, interim NCAA President Jim Isch said that the contract offered security in a time of great economic travail on campuses nationwide.
“We put our money where our mission is: Supporting student-athletes so they
can be successful in the classroom and in life,” he said.
Sniff. Sniff. See? It’s for the children.
Unsavory as all this seems, I’m not saying the NCAA or individual conferences give up a dime of the revenue earned from pimping college sports. I am saying, however, that it is time to let the students in on the action. The best way to do this is to allow student-athletes to accept endorsement money.
Surely, the floodgates will open. Star athletes might get endorsement deals worth millions. Most will receive little or nothing. But it’s far more honest.
Permitting endorsements is not perfect or easy, but it allows for market-based
compensation that TV revenue-sharing cannot address. The former option gives
the athlete the opportunity to get his or her value through work, ingenuity or the mysterious “marketability” gene, which is a coupling of good looks, talent and charisma.
The more popular idea of distributing TV revenues to players presumes it is possible to determine what percentage of the pie each student deserves. Someone, either at the NCAA or at each college, will have to decide exactly how much less money the third-string quarterback with 12 passing yards gets than his all-conference running back teammate.
I’m not up on the latest developments in legal theory, but I think there is a lawyer out there who will have a field day wrangling with that setup.
Smart schools would skip the cruel math and distribute the revenue pool evenly among all student-athletes. In fact, in order not to run afoul of Title IX’s rules about equal benefits and, honestly, common decency, there is no other option.
So the starting quarterback and lottery-pick power forward get the same amount of money as the sinewy wrestler and the golfer with the wicked short game.
Endorsements, however, offer compensation with the bonus of dispelling the hypocrisy and distasteful black market that already surrounds college athletics. Endorsements encourage the marketplace to get in on the fun.
The guard on the No. 1 women’s basketball team gets an offer for $100,000
to promote a line of shoes? Score. A Rotary Club wants to endorse a pitcher? A gymnastics program wants to sponsor a gymnast? The nationally-ranked swimmer wants to appear in ads for the local sporting goods store? The endorsement deal is a simple business proposition that doesn’t interfere with the contract between conferences and their broadcast partners.
If the disparity in income among team members undercuts team chemistry,
coaching staffs and the athletes will have to learn to cope. No system that attempts fairness will be perfect. It is no secret that certain players are more marketable. Call it the “Anna Kournikova” effect. Get over it.
Endorsements might reduce the financial urgency that some athletes have to jump to the pros. The NBA and NFL would get more mature players. Perhaps the specter of losing endorsement contracts would keep wayward collegians out of trouble. Win. Win. Win. Win.
Some glamor schools can use endorsement potential as a recruiting tool: Come to USC! We’ve got a great brand. But even mid-major conferences will have a new marketing tactic:
Stay local! We can get you something from Bubba’s Big and Tall.
Wealthy alums can direct their companies to give endorsement to entire teams, not just stars, just as sponsors do in every other sport here and around the world. Nike strongman Phil Knight and the University of Oregon are practically there already.
Never will there be increased athlete stipends served from a media-generated pot of gold. Too many obstacles. But if you care about getting student-athletes the money they deserve, as opposed to what their colleges earn through media contracts, endorsement money is a feasible option.
Can it go haywire? Yes. The reform will require a major rewire.
But reducing hypocrisy, outdated amateurism and the massive circumvention of rules already decades old and getting worse, is worth it.