Keep Questioning Why College Athletes Cannot Command More Money

Apr 26 2014, 9:17am CDT | by

The NCAA and businesses organized as “conferences,” including The Big Ten Conference, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference bring in billions of dollars on the backs of college athletes.  Spectators are enthralled by the skill of the athletes who take part in games organized and promoted by the NCAA and said conferences.  While the NCAA and the conferences can command compensation from massive television deals, ticket offerings and apparel sales based on what the marketplace will provide, athletes are capped in their earnings per what the NCAA and the conferences deem is an acceptable amount of remuneration.

The aforesaid is nothing new.  Today’s environment is one in which an effort by some Northwestern football players to unionize receives top billing and people are becoming very aware of players’ sincere concerns regarding safety, medical care and due process.  There is also a question left unanswered by any informed, non-interested party: Why does anyone believe (other than for self-interest, primarily based on direct or indirect monetary benefit) that amateurism exists?

Twitter has become a great tool for polling the masses and oftentimes receiving thoughtful responses, albeit limited to 140 characters (which refreshing more often than not).  I posed a question to my Followers with the preface that I understand college athletes benefit from scholarships, but why should there be a limitation on remuneration for those athletes who can command more money?

College athletes benefit from scholarships, but why the limitation on those who can command more?

— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) April 25, 2014

The overwhelming response was fascinating, because not a single reply provided a real justification.  The “they can demand more once they go pro” rationale is stale.  Everyone has seen the NCAA commercials that state, “ There are more than 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of them go pro in something other than sports.”  The NCAA is not lying (other than the fact that they are really not student-athletes), the vast majority of college athletes do not make it in the professional ranks.  That includes some blue-chip prospects who would likely be able to command an amount of money greater than a full scholarship on the open market.  Why prevent them from receiving what they are worth while in school?

Then there is the paternal response.  The NCAA and conferences are charged with a responsibility to prevent college athletes from the distractions that come along with being able to enjoy money in their hands.  Employers must salivate when they read this line of justification for depressing wages.  It simply makes no sense.  College athletes are told that they cannot negotiate their worth, while their classmates are entitled to create new companies, be entrepreneurs and potentially make millions of dollars.  These are adults who have the right to vote in elections for individuals who will serve as public officers.  They do not need, desire or demand that the NCAA and conferences protect them from perceived and assumed distractions that follow the flow of money.

Numerous fallacious and unfounded responses are included on the thread; however, the people behind the replies should not be scolded — they spread theories the NCAA and conferences have been forcing down fans’ throats for decades.  Athletes should be content with receiving scholarships; they are in a better spot in life if they leave school debt-free?  If there are two options: perform for a team and receive absolutely nothing, or perform the same services and receive a scholarship, then receipt of a scholarship is easily the better choice.  However, once again, it does not answer why there should be an arbitrary restriction on remuneration to a college athlete.  Receipt of money in excess of cost of living is more desirable than the status quo.  Leaving school wealthy is being in a better spot than simply leaving school debt-free.

Throughout the Twitter discussion, I was most impressed by the fact that a compliance office was brave enough to chime in.  Winthrop’s Compliance Office should be praised for at least having the courage to engage in a debate on capping college athletes’ receipt of compensation.

@DarrenHeitner 99.99% of SAs in revenue prod. sports are receiving far more than their “free market value”. Not saying that justifies either

— Winthrop Compliance (@WUCompliance) April 25, 2014

The vast majority of college athletes would not receive more than what they are offered under the current system.  As acknowledged by Winthrop’s Compliance Officer, that still does not justify placing a limit on players who actually can command more money in an open market.

By the 2017-18 academic year, 12 of the 14 schools that comprise The Big Ten Conference (unless schools are added or eliminated by then) are projected to receive $44.5 million each from the league’s distribution plan.  There is no denying that college sports is big business.  Meanwhile, on April 25, former college athletes, including Minnesota Vikings and former Florida Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and many college conferences, claiming that they have jointly agreed and conspired with member institutions to deny college athletes the compensation they would otherwise receive for their services in a competitive market.  They have asked for trebled damages under the antitrust laws and that the NCAA, conferences and their “co-conspirators” be enjoined from applying their anti-competitive rules.

Lawsuits have been and will continued to be filed against the NCAA and major college conferences.  The filings contained therein may effectuate change.  Meanwhile, keep questioning why college athletes cannot command more money.  Keep the discourse alive.  Demand real answers.  Demand change.

Want to learn more about the business of sports? Order my book How to Play the Game and follow me on Twitter.

Follow @DarrenHeitner

 
 
 

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