On Aug. 8 2013 the NCAA stopped selling player jerseys on its website. The phrase “too little, too late” can be applied to the situation that the NCAA currently finds itself in. For the NCAA, this action was an admission to what many have said over the years – that the NCAA profits wrongly off the names and likenesses of the athletes at its schools.
The business of college athletics is just that: a business. But this multi-billion dollar industry makes its money on the backs of young, and in many cases poor, unpaid (officially, at least), amateur athletes.
The move by the NCAA comes at a time when there is a pending lawsuit by Ed O’Bannon against the NCAA and video game company EA Sports. The lawsuit states that the NCAA profits from the illegal use of the names and/or likenesses of athletes in video games and other sources.
Ironically, while this lawsuit proceeds in court, the NCAA is investigating Texas A&M quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel, who allegedly signed his autograph on thousands of items and may or may not have been paid for it. It’s ok for the NCAA to profit off the names and efforts of these athletes, but it’s against the rules for the athletes to do so.
It’s important to note that in the Manziel case, he comes from a wealthy family and seemingly has no real necessity of the money that may have been paid to him in exchange for his autograph(s). Manziel also seems to have a real problem with authority and a disdain for the NCAA rules for athletes that some find hypocritical.
Manziel taking money against NCAA rules would be a case of him thumbing his nose to that hypocrisy. The Heisman trophy winner would most certainly have left for the NFL, if not for rules mandating that he remain in college. College football has and will continue to benefit financially from Manziel’s presence.
The argument has always been that a college scholarship was enough of a payment for a college career and that anyone should be happy to play a sport to put themselves through school.
But the counter is that college sports are now a big business responsible for millions of dollars and at major schools these athletes earn their coaches huge paychecks. (See: Nick Saban’s reportedly $4 million plus annual salary.)
It makes you think a little differently about the best college basketball players in the nation, who are only required to be one year removed from high school before they are eligible to play in the NBA.
What would we do, if we had the same opportunity? Most of us would take the money and the ones who say they wouldn’t are either lying or not like everyone else. Weirdos. I would like to think that I would be one of those weirdos to stay in school, but I’ve never been offered boatloads of money to play a sport, so I can’t say for sure.
What I do know, with at least some certainty, is that the NCAA is at a crossroads when it comes to the student athlete. This realization of athlete rights didn’t come overnight. EA Sports, who are also named in the O’Bannon lawsuit, probably saw the writing on the wall. The video game company stopped making their college basketball game several years ago, citing low sales.
Perhaps part of the reason was that you can’t hide a player’s face behind a helmet in basketball, making it easy for a player to recognize himself in a game. “Hey that’s me!” gave way to “Hey, they can’t do that, where’s my money!” This year’s EA Sports NCAA Football video game will be the last to bear the NCAA name.
If the decision is made in court that the NCAA is wrong with the current student athlete scholarship model, then it will be very interesting to see where it goes from there. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier says that the players should be paid. So then would that mean every player gets money or just the football and basketball players? How much is a Johnny Football worth?
What about schools like ours, that just cut the tennis program because of money issues? How can we afford to pay our athletes? I don’t have the answers and paying college athletes is a Pandora’s Box that the NCAA would like to keep closed, heavily guarded, under lock and key. Besides, that’s where all the money is.