Padanilam: No, the answer isn’t to pay college athletes
Benjamin Padanilam | Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Well, I was planning to use this column to write about the Olympics — particularly since fellow columnist Elizabeth Greason called all of us out for not doing so just last week — and I had the perfect subject in the underdog U.S. men’s curling team that won gold against all odds.
But then another fellow columnist, Tobias Hoonhout, chose to use Monday’s column to argue the recent FBI probe is evidence the NCAA needs to consider paying its athletes.
So out went the original idea, because Toby couldn’t be more wrong.
Most of his column is dedicated to pointing out the role the NCAA plays as an organizer, business and pipeline. He also points out that the colleges themselves operate with the mindset of a business, and the monetary greed which permeates throughout the system is at the root of problems like the FBI’s most recent findings of corruption.
These are all premises I can agree with.
However, it is for these reasons that Hoonhout argues the NCAA needs to embrace its role as a business and pay athletes.
And that conclusion shocked me; because as a PLS major, Hoonhout really should know better than to use slippery slope arguments to get to his conclusions.
Hoonhout writes that, “Unless the NCAA stops trying to focus entirely on its so-called ‘mission’ of helping student athletes and recognizes that its greed lends itself to corruption on numerous fronts, these issues won’t be fixed.” But it doesn’t logically follow that because the NCAA has categorically failed in fulfilling its mission statement that the organization must then embrace its shortcomings and pay athletes accordingly. Identifying that greed as a first step doesn’t have to end with spreading the wealth and moving away from the intended mission — nor does such a first step naturally progress to Hoonhout’s conclusion.
The fact is that this movement away from that mission is the shortcoming. That is what needs to be addressed.
Athletes at the collegiate level receive plenty of benefits. While Hoonhout doesn’t outright dismiss the value of a free education that so many of these athletes receive — especially in the sports he focuses on, football and basketball — he certainly undersells its importance. The NCAA is a “pipeline” to the top professional leagues in the United States for less than 2 percent of athletes in these two sports he focuses on as financial windfalls.
What this means is that for the other 98-plus percent, their education is the most valuable resource they will receive during their collegiate careers. And it doesn’t stop at an education — between issue gear, meal benefits, travel accommodations and opportunities to see other parts of the country, the benefits these athletes receive are nothing to scoff at. Especially when you consider these athletes get all of this for free when over 70 percent of non-athletes are working part-time jobs to pay for it, and have been doing so since at least 1990.
And while its true some sports’ athletes receive more benefits than others (or more scholarships), a pay-for-play system wouldn’t solve this — football and men’s basketball would only become more powerful and force other smaller sports into oblivion to financially support them if they receive pay equivalent to revenue as Hoonhout offers. And if Title IX is kept in place, supporting a football program could suddenly bring an end to baseball or soccer programs on the men’s side — maybe even a men’s basketball program at some schools — in order to maintain a balance with pay-for-play in lower revenue-producing women’s sports. Or if Title IX is disregarded altogether in these pay-for-play schemes, women’s sports could be left in the dust entirely, even though those athletes put in just as much work for less recognition than their higher revenue-producing male counterparts.
These are all consequences and issues Hoonhout ignores when he argues a pay-for-play system should be embraced to address the NCAA’s recent issues.
So what steps can we take to fix the issue he points out?
Re-embracing the student portion of student-athlete, albeit a long and difficult road with many obstacles, is the only solution to fixing the problem.
If greed and money no longer rule the system, then there’s no reason for the NCAA and programs to engage in the behavior their greed motivates. Is that easier said than done? Of course. But do we want quick, shoddy fixes or real solutions to this problem?
Amateurism needs to mean something again. Regulations of the NCAA and its member schools need to be improved to keep that in mind. Limit practice hours so student-athletes can be students again. Prioritize their interests over the financial windfall they create.
That’s how the corruption and exploitation stops. That’s how progress is achieved.
Because the alternative is a system where all the money is concentrated in a handful of sports, a greed-based system which only benefits the select few who can go pro. All because those few said a couple thousand dollars over a few years should be prioritized over or come at the expense of the education that leads to jobs for those who don’t go pro.
Because for the other 98+ percent of athletes, the old adage applies: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
Let’s make the NCAA remember its real purpose: providing its men and women with the ability to feed themselves for a lifetime.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.