By Ken Reed

On the same day that NCAA president Mark Emmert was testifying in front of Congress about how terrible it would be if college athletes were allowed to earn money from their name, image and likeness (NIL) — like any other college student, or U.S. citizen for that matter — Michigan State was reportedly giving Colorado football coach Mel Tucker a contract worth nearly $6 million a year.

Tucker is far from one of the most successful college football coaches in the country. A long-time assistant coach, he finished his first and only season as a head college football coach at Colorado with a 5-7 record. The year before, his predecessor, Mike MacIntyre, had a 5-6 record.

Schools like Michigan State are throwing $6 million a year at coaches like Tucker (and millions more for assistant coaches) while the NCAA lobbies Congress for the ability to continue denying college athletes their economic and civil rights.

I asked civil rights historian Taylor Branch about this.

“College athletes are both athletes and students,” said Branch.

“It’s definitely a civil rights issue. The governance of college sports is a civil rights issue because the athletes are citizens and are being denied their rights by what amounts to collusion. Colleges are telling football and basketball players they can’t get anything above a college scholarship. The athletes are being conned out of their rights.”

Schools in Power Five conferences now average more than $110 million in annual revenue.

So, tell me again why big-time college athletic programs can’t treat athletes more fairly from an economic perspective?
“The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids,” says New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.

This doesn’t even have to be about putting college athletes on the school’s payroll. That’s a messy thing, given Title IX and other factors. Simply allow college athletes to benefit from their NILs.

Emmert went to Congress and told them that allowing athletes to benefit from their NILs is a threat to the survival of college athletics. That’s shameful. It didn’t kill the Olympic and it won’t kill college athletics.

Let athletes benefit from their fame and likeness like their fellow students. 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? Music students on scholarship are free to accept cash or gifts for playing a weekend gig at the local club. Why should athletes be treated differently?

The answer is simple: They shouldn’t be.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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