*Another scandal has erupted involving several current and former football players at the Ohio State University being implicated in exchanging signed memorabilia for goods and services.
There has been the requisite amount of debate over who is to blame with the lion’s share of blame going to the now former coach: Jim Tressel. Fortunately though, there is more and more momentum behind compensating players so that they might avoid the kinds of actions that are currently deemed illegal.
And I used to think the schools paying the players was the solution to avoiding these types of “scandals” among collegiate athletes but the logistics were always problematic. So here is a better resolution: allowing the players to profit from their likenesses.
The main injustice within college athletics is that football and basketball players at elite programs produce enormous amounts of revenue for the college but are unable to pocket any of the money. In short they are being exploited and should instead be paid.
The counter argument is that college athletes are being given an athletic scholarship worth tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of dollars; in other words, the athletes are being compensated. But this explanation does not differentiate between revenue producing athletes and non-revenue producing athletes. And the star quarterback who inspires alumni to donate money to the school and helps sell out the arena should be compensated differently than the college bowler who does neither of these things. That is, athletic scholarships are not enough for those individuals who are creating wealth for their schools.
Another counter argument is that the surplus produced by the basketball team at an elite program often provides the funding for the school to field multiple other athletic teams. While this is a valid point, it only serves to show why the schools would find it difficult to pay the revenue producing athletes out of their coffers; it does not show why the athletes revenue producing don’t deserve extra consideration and compensation.
Allowing athletes to profit from their own likenesses would allow players to act on their own behalf and profit from their ability by negotiating endorsements and exclusive rights to their images. Such a system would be capitalistic at its core: the players would be able to get whatever they could convince they/their picture/their signature was worth. This would make what the Ohio State football players did legal. More importantly, it would allow for royalties to the players who are constantly being exploited by appearing in commercials or having their likenesses used in video games. Furthermore while this solution would affect revenue producing athletes the most, it could also benefit the female cross country star who could strike a deal to wear a particular store’s apparel. My proposal then, is an equal opportunity opportunity provider.
Also such a system would address both of these objections to paying the players. First, the college is not paying the players. Colleges would continue to treat all of its scholarship athletes the same – the change here is in the NCAA rules on amateurism. Second, because the schools are not altering their financial obligations there would be no negative consequences for non-revenue producing sports.
The money being produced in Division 1 football and basketball is too substantial for the current system (developed in the late 19th century when there wasn’t the market for spectator sports that exists today) to continue operating. The NCAA can either alter its bylaws to allow for the players to make money or deal with the inevitable alternative.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His work has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org