In October, the State of California signed a measure into law allowing collegiate athletes to be paid for commercial sponsorships in advertising and to hire agents for the purpose of doing so. This forced the National Association of College Athletes (NCAA) to consider rule changes that would allow athletes in all states to follow suit. Until this point, any money paid to collegiate athletes, other than scholarships, had been banned by the NCAA. Because the NCAA controls nearly all the nation’s largest universities, it holds control over most of collegiate athletics.
The NCAA, feeling cornered by California’s decision, announced that it would allow athletes to be paid for their names, images, and likenesses, pending advice from their three divisions on how the new rules can be implemented. This relaxation of rules has been a controversy for many years and NCAA has always fought against it, but because such rules are now banned in California, and with an upswell in many other states considering similar bans, along with many in Congress desiring to implement such changes on a national level, NCAA now has little choice. They can either get in front of it all to have some control, or they can fall behind it and leave control to legislators. They have chosen to get out in front.
The idea of collegiate athletics being tarnished by the paying of athletes that is somewhat unsettling. The reason collegiate athletics was developed was to offer athletes a means to have their education paid, as well as to develop character lessons not often offered in scholarly classrooms. College athletes are supposed to be amateur athletes, using their athletic prowess for leisure and having a well-rounded college experience. At least, that’s the way it was originally envisioned.
Of the United States’ three most popular sports — football, baseball, and basketball — both football and basketball will be prominently affected, but football the most. Baseball already has an alternate path to the professional league through its farm system, and basketball does sometimes recruit players straight out of high school. With some exceptions, football rarely recruits outside of collegiate sources.
To a degree, football has already become more about a means to an end in itself for college athletes who use it as a platform to make it into professional sports. However, football, with the new rules, will become much less about an education and amateur athletics and a whole lot more about a way to begin making it into professional sports (or at least semi-professional) right away. It will represent a departure from the original purpose of college-based sports.
Another negative effect on college football will be that the prominent universities which comprise what people typically call the power five conferences — Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12, SEC, and ACC — will become even more monopolistic in their hold on what are usually the best athletes. Less prominent schools will left out in the cold even more, as big money schools are able to offer more visibility to athletes that want the big money.
All of this aside, let’s consider what college sports, especially college football, has become all about.
College football is big business. For some universities, it is the number one source of revenue. Only larger and more prominent universities can afford massive stadiums and facilities to perfect their money machines. And they don’t have to worry about salaries for teams in professional athletics. They don’t have to pay their athletes, except for the relatively minor expense of scholarships. Football provides an enormous amount of funding to the biggest universities that can afford to promote it well. It’s a lot more like a business, and it’s a lot more like a professional organization for the universities than just a means of offering student athletes a fun activity.
Student athletes often work out and attend practices and team meetings for anywhere from 30 to 50 hours per week, while still required to maintain passing grade averages in their school work. They do all of this unpaid work for the privilege of an education they can barely obtain due to the competing hours of their team work. The scholarships they receive for their work don’t typically come anywhere near a comparable wage for such work. And, it’s against NCAA rules for them to have a paying job while being a member of the team. Some athletes barely get enough to eat while playing their sport at the college level.
And aside from all of this, the real question is this: Does a person have a right to his/her own name, likeness, and image? If this were a system like professional sports, such as the NFL, then it would make sense that a contract could allow a voluntary agreement to give up such rights to the extent of the work provided (i.e., the organization would control only name, likeness, and image in the course of normal business, but not outside of business), but this is different.
Most universities and colleges that make up the NCAA (with its stranglehold on football, and to a large extent, basketball) are publicly funded — they represent the power of the state. Furthermore, currently, they have taken control over the names, likeness, and images of student athletes, even outside the normal course of business for their prospective sports. It isn’t right for the state to confiscate a personal’s right to his name, likeness, and image. That is something with which we are all born — a natural right. A state entity has no rightful authority to confiscate it.
So while the rules may change collegiate sports in a manner many find distasteful, it’s the right thing to do for athletes. If these sports have become big business for the universities, then they should operate like big business for the athletes too. Let’s be real about what collegiate athletics really is. It’s no longer a means to obtain an education. It still does that, but it’s all about the business, and businesses offer a means of pay to their employees. In this case, that pay comes from scholarships. That’s fine, because the pay is on a voluntary basis. But to restrict athletes form using their own names and likenesses is an affront to the rights and freedoms that free societies hold dear, regardless of any negative consequences for collegiate sports.