• Sumo

By Ken Reed

The Final Four is always a time for celebration and dismay.

It’s a celebration of great athletes, great back stories and a great sport. But at the same time, it’s distressing that the athletes creating this billion dollar spectacle are prevented from sharing in the largesse.

A couple of USA Today writers, Nancy Armour and Dan Wolken captured that mix of feelings well this week.

Armour and Wolken both believe the only way to deal with the cesspool that is big-time college athletics is to start with the question, “What’s best for the young athletes?”

As Wolken put it, “In the end, the solutions are simple if you start with a simple goal: What’s best for the athletes?”

What a quaint notion. Not “What’s best for the coaches?” They’re doing fine. Nick Saban, Alabama’s head coach pulled in a cool $11 million last year. Not “What’s best for the NCAA and its schools?” CBS is getting closer to paying $1 billion a year for broadcast rights to the NCAA hoops tournament. But “What’s best for the athletes?”

As Armour wrote:

“It’s the kids who are generating the millions of dollars for their schools, conferences and the NCAA, getting only a scholarship in return. Now, I’m not saying a college scholarship is worthless. Far from it. For some athletes, it is the only way they can afford to go to college. But the quaint days of college athletics being an amateur activity are long gone, and the NCAA and its schools remain steadfast in their refusal to accept that.”

Meanwhile, NCAA president Mark Emmert remains frozen in place when it comes to coming up with any creative solutions to this economic injustice problem.

“Universities and colleges have consistently said they don’t want to have student-athletes become employees of a university,” Emmert said. “They don’t want them to be playing for compensation.”

Hey, Mr. President, there are other ways to start effectively addressing this situation besides putting the athletes directly on the payroll. The first, and most obvious, is to do what the Olympics did and begin to allow athletes to gain economically from their names, images, and likenesses — just like every other student on campus, and every other citizen of this country.

As Armour pointed out:

“Most people are comfortable with there being some difference between professional and college athletes but also believe it’s fair that the players get some compensation for the revenues they’re generating. Allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness is one long-standing suggestion. Follow the Olympic model, where athletes are allowed to sign individual endorsement deals.”

Yes, going to the Olympic model is the simple first step. And a step Emmert and the NCAA will eventually be forced to make.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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