By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
November 13, 2015
There’s a clear solution to the issue of compensating college athletes more fairly.
It’s the Olympic model.
Athletes deserve to share in the wealth created due to their efforts on the courts and fields of our universities.
The question is how should they share in the wealth? What’s the best system? Some have suggested that athletes be paid salaries like athletes in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. However, that brings up a host of issues, for example, how will athletes in non-revenue sports like swimming and tennis be dealt with? What are the Title IX ramifications? Will an athletes’ union need to be formed to negotiate compensation? If so, how will it operate and whom will the union negotiate with? What about worker’s compensation issues? Clearly, a system in which college athletic departments paid athletes a salary would require dealing with a complex web of factors.
There’s a better and easier way: let athletes benefit from their fame and likeness like every other student at our colleges and universities. Let them take endorsement money like the coaches that lead them. If the local auto parts store wants to pay a college athlete to sign autographs for two hours during a store sale, why shouldn’t the athlete be allowed to take that opportunity? If someone wants to give an athlete a gift — be it cash or tattoos — why should that be banned? Music students in college are free to accept cash or gifts for playing a weekend gig at the local club. What makes athletes different?
“Is it so ignoble for a college athlete to make money off his her talent and fame?” asks sports and culture writer Patrick Hruby.
“Nobody in America has to deal with the restrictions on income that the NCAA imposes. Actors and musicians can go off to college, be on scholarship, and still make money off their talent. It’s morally wrong, and un-American, to prevent athletes from doing the same.”
It’s time to eliminate this outdated concept of amateurism and allow college athletes to get paid for having their likeness on calendars, for example. It’s time to allow the so-called “money handshakes.” What other college students are banned from taking gifts? There aren’t any.
Critics claim the big-time schools like Alabama and Ohio State would have an advantage in this system. Guess what? They have an advantage in the current system.
LSU has recently been asked to investigate whether star running back Leonard Fournette and his family received improper benefits in the form of discounted services to set up a website to sell Fournette merchandise, USA Today reported this week.
The NCAA quickly shut down the online business, which was going to sell Fournette-related hats and T-shirts. His eligibility is now in question.
“If Fournette and his family want to create a clothing line and sell some hats and shirts then let them do it,” wrote sports columnist Dan Wetzel. “LSU already sells his No. 7 jersey all over the place. It can, and does, sell anything it wants featuring him.
Obviously there is a huge market, here. A Fournette game-worn jersey recently fetched $101,000 at a charity auction. So why shouldn’t Fournette get in on it? Colleges should be encouraging students to start their own businesses, not prohibiting it.”
Prohibition, in the form of the amateurism myth, doesn’t work. The underground economy in college sports will only grow as the money in college sports grows.
Dumping the amateur myth isn’t a new concept. The Olympics dumped the amateur myth and allowed athletes to make money from their athletic ability and fame. And guess what? The world didn’t end! In fact, the Olympics are more popular than ever.
“The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids,” says New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Paying athletes salaries as university employees is impractical, given the complex set of ancillary issues that option raises. However, allowing college athletes to receive money from outside the athletic department is much more straightforward.
In fact, it’s fair and just. And it gets rid of a lot of the hypocrisy in college sports.
“The moral unsustainability of college athletics, as it is presently structured, is a huge issue,” says Hruby.
“There’s a huge college sports economy that for the most part the athletes are left out of… The myth of amateurism has to go. If the NCAA isn’t going to pay the athletes directly — which admittedly is very tricky, a lot of things would have to be worked out — then at least administrators have to stop telling college athletes that they can’t earn money from outside sources.”
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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