The past few weeks have been pretty good in regards to some of the athletes I work with. After completing their senior sport season, some college football coaches came calling and offered some tremendous opportunities. I am both happy and excited to see what the future holds as they continue to grow and become NCAA athletes.
With all of this going on, it got me thinking a little bit about the NCAA. My understanding is that the term amateurism in sports goes back a long, long way. It was first used in England as a way to prevent the unwealthy from participating in activities. If you were broke, you couldn't miss any time away from work for a game. This is somehow the same term that is used to describe the college athlete: an "amateur". These "amateurs" are responsible for hundreds of jobs for the NCAA. They need coaches, trainers, athletic directors, etc. These "amateurs" generate nearly one billion dollars in revenue for the non-profit NCAA. What do they get in return? They get a free education and for some, that works out well. But they also get denied rights that every other human in America gets. The ability to gain income from the work they put in.
The term "student athlete" was created to avoid having to pay players compensation for injuries. This came to trial in the 1970's when TCU running Kent Waldrep was knocked out cold in a game against Alabama. When he awoke, he was paralyzed. The university helped for years with some bills but eventually, stopped aiding the family. This led to a lawsuit. Ultimately, the NCAA won out. The term student athlete was created as a way to prevent athletes from filing claims for compensation if injured while playing. Now the term is viewed a little differently.
The NCAA prides itself on amateurism and "student athletes". It is what some fans say they love about the college game. They say, "these kids play for the love of the game, not a paycheck" (I bet if you polled these athletes they'd gladly take a check for their services). The universities make it hard for their athletes to excelling as students. Coaches schedule early morning workouts prior to class. There are road games. There is travel for tournaments, bowl games, etc. All of these things conflict with the class schedule. Like NFL player Dominique Foxworth said, "C's get degrees" (this was a running joke when he was a student at Maryland).
Will we ever see a solution to this? I think not. The NCAA doesn't seem to budge in regards to paying the athletes. They are OK denying athletes rights to work, get a meal or two bought for them, and profit of ticket and jersey sales, but god forbid they get a few bucks for all the time and work they put in. Jay Bilas told a story of his nephew who was the class president at the university he attended. He received $5,000 a year because of his role at the university. And this kid was already on full academic scholarship. How does that make sense?
Before I end this, I understand a majority of these kids get their tuition paid for it. As a 30 year old still paying off school loans, I get it. Believe me. But these contracts that they sign, aka scholarships, are open for approval or denial each season. A scholarship one year can be pulled the next. Some families depend on this. Like running back Arian Foster said, college athletes are indentured servants. By definition, an indentured servant is a person under contract to work for another person for a definite period of time, usually without pay but in exchange for something. Substitute the word athlete for indentured servant and it describes the life of an NCAA athlete.