March madness has been popular with viewers and college graduates for decades. It has also been a profitable endeavor for colleges as has broadcasting college football games. But there is a difference between paying professional athletes who have a contract to play their particular sport well, and a college player who plays well. One is required to study; the other can spend his or her time playing Madden 18, 19, or 20.
In the April 8 issue of Time, Taylor Branch, "Why Telling the NCAA to Pay Players is the Wrong Way to Help College Athletes" argues that college athletes should have the same bargaining rights that any other American has. He claims that the NCAA imposes a compensation ceiling on college athletes. It’s doesn’t impose a ceiling, since it is not required to pay them a salary.
Getting paid for a job outside the classroom is not the same as getting paid for performing as an athlete for the college. What’s the difference? The job outside the classroom is not associated with the college. Playing a sport as an college athlete is. The people paying you for your job outside the classroom usually don't care if you graduate. If the college does not care if the athlete graduates, that's a problem that is larger than whether or not an athlete is getting paid.
Branch claims that paying athletes would give them an incentive to stay in school. Wrong. Paying them would make them depend more on their athletic ability and less on studying hard. It would make them think that they are one step closer to a professional career as a basketball player.
Black male athletes who play televised sports often have trouble graduating from college, or even thinking about life outside playing their given sport, whether it’s basketball or football.
Paying them for playing their sport would just confirm the fact that they are not there to learn, get a degree or become well-paid professionals in a field related to their college degree. People who observe sports and watch the March Madness tournament know this already. We know that whether the athlete is a star in the classroom is not as important as what they do on the basketball court. We only care that they get to cut down the net. The question is whether that is the message that the NCAA is telling them.
Another problem is that players who play for a TV audience would be paid well, female athletes, as well as those in non-televised sports, would be paid far less.
Here is a quote from his article, essentially telling the non-popular student athlete that they would be paid nothing:
“A volleyball player at a small college could seek compensation like anyone else, but negligible revenue would make such a request moot. Most college sports could remain amateur in the only true sense of the word, being pursued for love of the game and voluntarily divorced from commerce.”
This is what would happen if Branch’s idea were to take affect: the black male college graduation rate would drop precipitously because they would rely on being paid. What would happen after they spent four years entertaining audiences? They would graduate with no degree, nothing but the sense of being paid far less than their professional counterparts.
There are already many black athletes who, after graduating from college, have unrealistic dreams of making a career of playing NFL football. What happens when their dream evaporates? Depression can set in. They often return to the negative influence of the old neighborhood.
Further, female basketball players, with higher graduation rates than the men, would be paid a small portion of what the men would be paid. Although they would be paid far less, they would end up in better, since they would have a degree that they could use. The women know that even the best female professional basketball players are not paid very much compared to the men. That pressures them to depend on their degree, not making millions as a basketball player.
What about athletes in other sports who are not in televised sports. They don’t play on making a career of their sport and have to depend on their degree. The result is that they focus more on a degree they can use after college.
A U.S. District Judge, Claudia Wilken wrote the NCAA compact with students captures “extraordinary venues” for members schools by confining players to compensation “not commensurate with the value that they create.”
One fellow argued that the athletes should get part of the revenues from shoe contracts. The problem with this argument is that it is based on players who are on basketball courts, most of whom are black males.
The same is true of the majority of college football players. Should some college athletes be paid simply because their particular sport is televised? It begs the question: why are they attending school in the first place? The answer is they were recruited by a college team, usually not because of their academic skills. Paying them would just confirm to the world that they are not there to study, but to get paid for their sport, graduate somehow, and not get a job associated with their degree.
There is no question that the NCAA has too much control over student athletes. But the solution is not to pay them for playing, but to pay them for real classroom work, for studying, for becoming college scholars first and athletes second.
How could they possibly do that? By highlighting the March Madness athletes as scholars. By finding out what really motivates them scholastically. By talking about how they find time to study. By telling stories about how they balance athletics with sports at the school.
How else can they help the student athletes? Assist the families of the student athlete by paying part of their living expenses, subsidize part of their housing, if the students make good grades. Make payments in kind on real work done in the classroom, real scholastic achievement.
The college could also provide assistance to brothers or sisters of the student athlete who achieves a certain level of scholastic success. Give a tuition discount to their family members who do well in high school. Give the athlete an incentive to do well in school.
Simply paying athletes just because we see them on TV is not the best way to go. Students would soon learn that they are in school to perform well as an athlete, not perform in the classroom. That's not a message the NCAA should send to students or their families.
© 2019 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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