Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Pay or Not to Pay

I frequent to get my sports fix, and to remain up to date on current events in sports.  Among my favorite sports to follow is college football.  And the issue that rings prominent is "cheating" in the form of giving players extra benefits, which comes in various forms.  The NCAA, the governing body of intercollegiate athletics, is desperately clinging to the notion of amateurism.  They cling to the notion that these athletes are students first, and athletes second.  They cling to the notion that amateurism is the source of all the good associated with intercollegiate athletics.  One side note before I continue, by intercollegiate athletics, I am referring only to division 1 football, and men's basketball, the only two revenue generating sports for most division 1 universities.

Schools such as LSU, Ohio State, Alabama, North Carolina, and Kentucky generate millions of dollars from their football and basketball programs.  They pay their coaches millions.  Fans pay thousands for season tickets.  Companies pay schools millions for advertising and sponsorships.  Television networks pay the NCAA billions for the rights to air these football and basketball games.  Ridiculous amounts of dollars are being moved by the engine of NCAA intercollegiate athletics.  Millions of fans watch college football and basketball, and are passionate about their respective schools, and their teams.  They spend absurd amounts of money on merchandise to display the pride that they have in their respective schools.  Among the merchandise being bought are jerseys.  In particular, those that bear the number of their favorite player.

In intercollegiate athletics, the players are "amateurs," and are not allowed to receive compensation for their talents.  And the NCAA goes through extreme and ridiculous measures to protect the sanctity of amateurism.  The players are the most important aspect of intercollegiate athletics.  Without talented players, fans would not care, and money would not be generated.  These players generate millions of dollars for their respective schools, and merely receive "a free education" as compensation.  By free education, I mean hours spent on the practice field, and in the film room with coaches fine tuning their craft.  Their spare time is occupied by class, and tutoring sessions.  Make no mistake about it, the players are athletes first, and students second.  Why are they allowed by their respective universities to be athletes first?  Because of the money they generate.  In addition to their education, which, make no mistake about it, is the second priority, how much are the student athletes compensated by their respective universities for being athletes first?

Recruiting the top athletes is the lifeblood of all college football and basketball programs that consistently win.   We've all read about the "$500 handshakes," backpacks full of cash, the special deals on cars, the houses bought for the families of players, the tattoos in exchange for memorabilia, and etc.  (If you aren't familiar with it, simply google it, and you will get all the info that you could ever want.)  All of that is deemed "cheating" by the NCAA, because they are all forms of compensation for a player, and are a means of convincing a particular player to attend a university.  I compare the prevalence of "cheating" to Reagan's War on Drugs.  Much like the NCAA's efforts to protect the sanctity of amateurism, the War on Drugs has been a resounding failure.  Drug use in the U.S. has not gone down since it was declared, and millions of tax dollars are wasted everyday on this "war."  The NCAA will never be able to prevent a "$500 handshake" from ever happening.  Preventing payments to players by boosters is impossible.  Make no mistake about it, these athletes are not amateurs.  

It's hypocritical of these institutions to receive millions of dollars in revenue generated by the talents of these athletes, and to pay them nothing in addition to their second rate education.  Contrary to popular belief, amateurism is not the source of all that is good in intercollegiate athletics.  The source is excellence, and the pride associated with excellence.  Nothing is more beautiful than a well played college football game between two powerhouse programs.  I am a graduate of Louisiana State University, and very few things made me more proud than to witness the Tigers win two national championships.  Amateurism is not the source of the passion associated with intercollegiate athletics.  Most players view their respective sports as jobs.  The source of the passion is the students, alumni, and fans who are proud of their respective school colors, and their players.  The players are competitors who use that passion as fuel, whether they are payed or not.  Professionalism could never hinder the sanctity of intercollegiate athletics.  Players are competitive whether they are payed, or not.  And fans will always be passionate when their respective teams win consistently.  It's ridiculous to believe that professional players would cause a fanbase to be less passionate, or a game to be less competitive.  Losing causes passion to wane, not professionalism.

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