NCAA leaders announced Tuesday that they might allow college athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses.
It’s the least they could do.
NCAA leaders always do the least they can.
This news feels like progress because the NCAA has made so little before, because the organization has gotten rich treating athletes like modern-day, jersey-wearing sharecroppers.
The NCAA will “allow” athletes to profit from their work. Think about that sentence. The NCAA, which has gotten rich off the backs of athletes, is vaguely promising to possibly allow college students to maybe make something like money. Maybe.
An organization and its member schools, which make billions cumulatively, and which pay athletic directors and coaches millions in salary, are willing to let full-time athletes, at least the most marketable of them, make money just the way an accomplished business student might.
Unlike any other college student, athletes don’t get paid for the time they spend on the job. And being a college athlete is a full-time job.
Don’t try to argue that scholarships are the equivalent of pay. They are coupons, not cash. They can’t be redeemed for a house, a car or a birthday meal, and they don’t guarantee a future career. Their presumed cash value is impressive only because the university system has teamed with lenders to gouge young people for a generation.
The NCAA is not being charitable or even modern here, it is merely reacting to a slew of proposed legislations in different states that would lead to college athletes being able to profit off their careers. Even when the NCAA does the right thing, it does so for the wrong reasons.
This doesn’t go far enough, and it won’t go far enough unless the NCAA is threatened with extinction.
The NCAA needs to pay its players, in cash, as well as acknowledging it should have no place in limiting their ability to market themselves.
Amateurism? Even Olympic athletes get paid, and the Olympics have hardly suffered from their lack of faux purity.
The NCAA has reported annual earnings of more than $1 billion. The highest-paid college coach in the land, Clemon’s Dabo Swinney, is working on a 10-year deal worth $93 million.
Swinney once said he would quit coaching if players got paid. He was lying.
Power Five conference schools have almost uniformly lavish practice facilities and locker rooms, if not arenas. Every argument the NCAA has made about the sanctity of amateurism has been a poor attempt at disguising greed.
Determining how a pay scale would work, and how you would pay a backup soccer player in comparison with how you would pay a star quarterback, is difficult. At least, that’s a popular argument.
But every workplace has a salary scale. Why should a college campus filled with athletes be any different?
Athletes tend to appreciate meritocracies. A tennis player who draws a crowd of 30 can’t expect to be paid the same as a star basketball player who draws a television audience in the tens of millions. And it would be hard to find a college tennis player who would complain about that.
The NCAA saw that it was about to be embroiled in legal cases it was likely to lose. This is the first offer in its negotiation to protect its profits.
The NCAA can do more for athletes than merely allow them to profit from their own likenesses, and the NCAA knows this. Its leaders are just trying to buy time and draw up new battle lines, but you can’t admit that college athletes have rights and then continue to take them away.
The college athlete is winning. The legislators who support them are winning. Until the NCAA is flushed from a system that doesn’t need it, its leaders will just have to find a way to live on less than $1 billion a year.
If they need lessons in austerity, they can drop by a nearby campus and talk to a few student-athletes.