Monday, September 2, 2013

The Great Amateurism Debate

Colorado days.

  I'm always game for a good debate. All the better if it's sports related -- I'll be that much better-equipped.

  One night last week, I flipped on ESPN and tuned into Keith Olbermann's new talk show. It's been a while since we've seen Olbermann strictly talking sports, so I wanted to check out his new digs.

  Tony Kornheiser, from PTI fame, was a guest on this particular night talking amateurism and college athletics.

  Many of us know collegiate sports have become a booming business. A lot of people make are making a lot of money. But the valued commodity, the athlete, doesn't see a dime of that money.

The Amateurism Debate
  At the forefront of the Kornheiser/Olbermann conversation was Johnny Manziel (and the recent autograph-gate), and whether or not college athletes should be paid.

  Both Olbermann and Kornheiser were arguing that enough was enough. That it was time for college athletes to be paid. The NCAA and major college sports are such a money-maker, for everyone but the athletes. That it's time to share a little of the enormous pie with those athletes.

  From coaches earning multi-million dollar contracts, to university licensing deals, to jersey sales and video games, to rich television agreements (CBS and Turner Sport's March Madness contract with the NCAA is worth $770 million a year) -- everyone seems to be making money off of college sports and more importantly, the athletes.

Kornheiser and Olbermann.
  Everyone that is, except the athlete.

  Kornheiser and Olbermann argued that. And then they took it a little further.

  They made the point that, at that moment, they both were being paid to talk about Manziel and other top collegiate athletes. TV personalities are paid to talk about college athletes and analyze college sports. Yet that same athlete, can't sell his own autograph for some cash (before you jump down my back for autograph-gate, I know nothing in regard to Manziel was proven) without jeopardizing his status as an amateur (and thus, his college eligibility).

  The pros and cons of paying athletes have been argued for years. The old argument was always: 'they are being paid, in the form of a (free) college education.'

  Speaking from experience, that is a definite bonus, but it's hardly free. Not having a college loan to repay is an amazing benefit. However being a full-time student while competing at the highest level of collegiate sports, is a balancing act, and a full-time job in and of itself.

  It most definitely is not a free education. So I don't buy the 'they're already being paid argument'.

Manziel's signature has been a source of controversy.
Paying Your Dues
  But I am against outwardly paying collegiate athletes, for several reasons.

  I hear and understand the arguments for paying them. They're being exploited for big time money; they should see a little of that money -- it's only fair.

  And I do agree. But flat out paying them isn't  the solution.

  To those who argue they should be paid, how do we decide who gets paid what? Does every athlete get paid? Equally?

  It's a complicated mess, but that isn't a good enough excuse to keep things as they are.

  Another argument Kornheiser and Olbermann were making, 'because everyone else is making money' isn't a good one either.

  People make money off of high school athletes these days too. Should we pay them as well? In all honesty, if we open that can of worms, where would it stop? There is already a sense of entitlement, we don't need to make that beast even more dangerous.

  I'm of the belief that being an unpaid college athlete is part of the process. Maybe that's somewhat of a fairy tale viewpoint to have. But that's what I believe. There's something about being an amateur, paying your dues, and earning the title of professional athlete. That title shouldn't be a given.

  Paying collegiate athletes would essentially make them professionals. Or at the very least, semi-professional. And I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in seeing college sports turn into a semi-pro venture.

Jersey sales could be one source of post-eligibility compensation.
  Many, however, already look at college athletics as a minor league farm system for pro leagues. That is due, in large part, to the system we have allowed to develop.

  Money is king. And the NCAA has turned into an enormous business. The athletes want to prepare for their professional careers as best, and as quickly as they can; reap the riches while the opportunity is there.

  I don't blame them. And I don't think you do either. Professional sports careers are short.

Stakes is High
  Obviously the stakes are highest for football players and male basketball players. Those are the highest-profile, biggest money making sports in the college ranks.

  It's their jerseys being sold. Their likeness on display in video games. And their faces closing out CBS's infamous 'One Shining Moment' montage. They're being exploited to a greater extent than any other athlete -- male or female.

  But directly cutting them a check still isn't the solution.

  Enough will never be enough. Once we head down that road, there would be no coming back.

  The current system we have in place doesn't work either. So what's the solution?

Fair Compensation
  What about payment after eligibility is exhausted? Or extending stipends? Or graduate school offerings?

NCAA Tournament vs. UNC.
  Take jersey sales for example. The university could easily set aside earnings for individual athletes based on accumulated jersey sales. Put it into an account, and the athlete will have a nice little start when his/her eligibility expires.

  Or with video game licensing: each athlete represented should receive 'X' amount of dollars.

  Obviously, any kind of payment would change the rules of the game. And the difficulty becomes deciphering what is fair.

  Changes lead to new challenges to overcome -- which undoubtedly, there would be many. But these changes would benefit everyone involved in college athletics, namely the athlete. The integrity of the game and universities would remain intact as well.

  There are countless ways to fairly compensate the athletes without simply writing them a check. What might happen though, is those coaches, those analysts, those advertisers, those athletic directors, might have to take a smaller piece of the pie.

  But that's probably the way it should be anyway.

  It's an interesting conversation. The current state of affairs where money rules all, where everything is deemed as cheating, and where the game and education is sacrificed, isn't a beneficial, or fair, system.

  There is a fair solution. What do you think it is?


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