To give up on the illusion of amateur college athletes. That’s all it is. Probably has been all it was since they approved athletic scholarships almost 70 years ago (which happened because schools were blatantly ignoring the rules and giving them anyway).
We ask them to give up their lives for Old Alma Mater, whether that is in Fayetteville or Tuscaloosa or Durham or Tucson. They’re a student for 12-15 hours a week, roughly. The rest of the time, they’re athletes. Their diets, their schedules, their workouts, their sleeping habits, are determined by the needs of being an athlete, not by being a kinesiology major.
And for that, we give them tuition, fees, books, room and board and a “cost of attendance” stipend, and the COA stipend is very new. Yes, an education is worth something, and I’m not belittling that at all. But there is a gap here and the scumbags like Andy Miller are rushing in to fill it. You’re not going to stop the Andy Millers of the world, who don’t care if he gets Arizona on probation as long as he gets to make money off Arizona’s players.
The NCAA’s Mark Emmert released a statement the other day that there are systemic problems that must be fixed and fixed now. And he’s right. But then he said “people who engage in this kind of behavior” have to be removed from college sports. He’s wrong, because it can’t happen, and won’t happen. Andy Miller was funneling money to athletes because he believed, correctly, that this would lead to him making back his investment many times over. “This kind of behavior” is otherwise known as capitalism, which is kinda what America is built on. The solution is to dump the system that gives the Andy Millers so much influence over the athletes, financial and otherwise.
Every time this topic comes up, people decry that college athletes might actually get paid out in the open. Like there’s something morally wrong with giving a college basketball player a few bucks. But as Andy Staples pointed out this week in SI.com, if you take their argument and replace the word “athlete” with the word “plumber” or “website builder” or “singer”, you start to see how silly it is. A plumber has a skill that people are willing to pay for. So does a point guard or a wide receiver. And it’s ridiculous that the schools have come together – conspired – to fix the price for that skill at tuition, books, room and board. That’s what it is. An NCAA conspiracy, and the University of Arkansas is a full participant.
If nothing changes? Things will calm down for a while because of the FBI investigation, but the FBI won’t keep snooping forever, and things will be back (down) to the same normal level of sleaze in five years. And the NCAA may be forced to change the rules anyway by the Kessler lawsuit, just as the O’Bannon lawsuit is forcing a change in using the likenesses and images of college athletes in video games and on TV.
A lot of us have been watching the Olympics this month. At one time, Olympic amateurism rules were ridiculously tight. U.S. athletes got around it with college scholarships. Russian athletes got around it by joining the Red Army and pretending to be soldiers while they trained for hockey or basketball or the 200 meter dash. But now Olympic athletes are pros. Are the Games worse now than in the old days? I don’t think so. A great performance is still a great performance, and a great story is still a great story.
Apply the Olympic rules to college sports. The school can still give them tuition, books, room and board; it wouldn’t blow Hunter Yurachek’s budget out of the water. But let anyone else who wants to pay them, pay them. This avoids Title IX problems, because a woman golfer would have the same opportunity to make money as the men’s power forward or the quarterback. Whether anyone would offer that golfer money is beside the point. She would have the chance to find out what her skills are worth on that market. Maybe she makes a little from Titleist or Ping or Taylor Made to use their equipment. So? The Olympic skiers make sure you can see the logos on the bottom of their skis in the post-race interviews, and they get paid for that, and life goes on.
We’re not talking giant money either. Andy Miller was loaning kids amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars. Not insignificant to a 20-year-old kid (or for a lot of his elders), but nowhere near what an Aaron Rodgers or Chris Paul is making now as a pro after coming through the NCAA system (I specifically left out the first two athletes I thought of here, Clayton Kershaw and LeBron James, because neither one attended college).