31 March 2014

The Cake is a Lie: Pay the Players

The NCAA D-1 Men's Basketball Tournament happens every year around this time. It coincides with much hand-wringing about how much money the NCAA - a not-for-profit organization - makes (billions of dollars, which is quite a lot) and how much money the players make (zero dollars, which is quite a lot less).

I'm not here to wring my hands; I'm here to Marcus Small double-bird the NCAA in general and the NCAA amateurism rules in particular.

The NCAA is a sham, amateur athletics is a sham, and anyone that defends the archaic notion that these players who work for free should continue to do so because something-something-education and the good of the game and whatever else is talking nonsense. Brian Philips lays it all out in greater detail, but I have been working on a post about it too and I'm not one to let good(?) words go to waste.

The NCAA amateurism rules are about control. Yes the players get a scholarship. That's a useful piece of compensation (for some), even if it is a joke when compared to the amount of value the NCAA and the school get out of the player. Still: they get an opportunity to get an education. Which is valuable, if you're in school to get an education. And it would make sense if the players were treated like regular students. Except athletes in 'revenue' sports (football, basketball) are generally not in school to get an education, they are in school to get some miserably low-wage / high-risk on the job training in the NBA and NFL's de facto minor leagues. And they are not treated like regular students (this was the crux of the ruling from the NLRB).

It's a great system from the NCAA's perspective: they do the work while YOU get paid. Then you say you cannot pay them because: education(?). I dunno. One of the things I learned in school is that you should get paid for your work. I guess that rules are different when you start collecting truly astronomical sums of money

All of which would be tolerable if the players had an opportunity to capitalize on their marketable skills in their private lives, away from the court or field. But they cannot, because: NCAA amateurism rules. Players do not own the rights to their own name or image. They cannot sell their autograph, cannot get paid to participate in events, cannot make money on endorsements, cannot get paid in any way. The only right a player owns is the decision to play or transfer. (Don't get me started on how unfair the transfer rules are.)

Meanwhile, everyone else makes money hand over fist: the NCAA, the school, the administrators, the head coaches, the TV networks, the apparel companies, the shoe companies, the companies that advertise at the event, the venue owners, the licensed merchandise vendors, the unlicensed merchandise vendors, the guy selling parking spots around the way, the scalpers, etc. The list of people cashing checks on behalf of these young men is absurd.

If you're a good player at a big-time school then you have the Midas touch: literally everything you come into contact with makes people money. Except you. You work for peanuts. Your options are limited, and once you commit yourself to the machine you can have your right to work revoked at any time because wanting to get some of that cheese while you're still in college is a character issue. Or something. I don't even know. And don't dare smoke any weed, either. That would be breaking the rules and grounds for immediate suspension. No kid that smoked weed in college ever amounted to anything. Except for that one guy. Whatever. He wasn't athlete. No athlete every smoked wee- what's that? Oh. I shouldn't have brought it up.

This morally wrong and unjust system is perpetuated because the fat cats with the money don't want to share it. If you're cool with that, keep filling out March Madness(TM) brackets and enjoying the games. We all draw the line somewhere - most of us are not at all fussed about the working conditions in the plant where our cellphones are assembled. But if you think that employees should be paid commensurate with their value instead of being exploited by artificial, collusive wage restrictions then, well, maybe the Final Four isn't for you.

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