Does Amateurism Still Exist?

After browsing through Netflix one dreary Ann Arbor night, I came upon an interesting sounding documentary that just so happened to directly relate to the readings we discussed in lecture. Schooled: The Price of College Sports is an engaging and convincing documentary that surrounds the topic of monetary compensation toward all collegiate athletes. Schooled follows the journey of many different college athletes, specifically football and basketball players, telling their story in the hopes of sparking some thought on this important topic. This documentary mentions the Ed O’Bannon case, something that was discussed earlier on in the course in Dispatches from the NCAA’s Deathbed, which shows the perils of an individual’s identity in college. Whether for or against the topic of payment of college athletes, Schooled makes a compelling case justifying direct compensation toward players and the inescapability of rewarding college players in the future.

Franklin in action during his time as a Bruin

The documentary opens with the story of Johnathan Franklin, former UCLA Bruin and Green Bay Packer running back who advocates for the compensation of college athletes. Franklin accounts a typical day as a college football player:

6am-9am: practice

10am-1pm: class

2pm-315pm: team meeting

4pm-6pm: practice

7pm-9pm: tutoring

9pm-11pm: homework

When asked what he gets in return for his busy schedule, Franklin replies, “scholarship, dorm to live in, food to eat. And, uh, that’s it.” Clearly bitter about his lack of payment, Franklin, like many other college athletes, believes he is used for promotion and deserves more for his contribution. One player goes as far to say that college athletes are indentured servants who are exploited and not compensated for their time as college athletes. However, monetary compensation brings up many questions and concerns regarding payment. Who gets paid? How much should each player get paid? Which sports deserve direct payment and who decides this? How would this affect the individual’s education? While athletics are a huge part of college, student athletes are at college to gain a higher education– one large detail that is often overlooked. By paying college athletes, the NCAA just may find themselves in a stickier situation than by not paying athletes.

The documentary continues to define an amateur sportsman as “one who engages in sport solely for the pleasure and physical, mental, or social benefits he derives there from and to whom sport is nothing more than an avocation”. So, if this definition says amateurs play for the love of the game and not for money, then that would mean the majority of college players are not amateurs, even though almost 98.5% of college athletes do not go professional.

The debate goes on, further delving into the issue of compensation for athletes, the integrity of the NCAA, the academic fraud that has plagued many athletes over the years, and the exploitation of college athletes once they graduate from college. Ed O’Bannon, a retired NBA star, still appears in NCAA video games today, despite having leaving college many years ago. Charles Pierce, author of Dispatches from the NCAA’s Deathbed claims “[The NCAA] markets their personhood for their own benefit”. I believe Ed O’Bannon, and others like him deserve to have the decision whether or not their face appears in a video game, however, I am still not sold on whether athletes should obtain direct compensation.

Real life Ed O’Bannon

Virtual Ed O’Bannon

Schooled develops a counterargument by saying that getting a full scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars over four years is compensation enough. Isn’t the true purpose of college to get an education anyway? When did college sports become, in some cases, more important than academics? Whether college athletes should be paid for their contribution still remains partial to the individual, however I believe it is most important for athletes, like other students, to obtain an education, not just a degree.

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3 comments

  1. jbaren · November 20, 2014

    I went to this past weekend’s theme semester event where panel discussions took place on education in sports and think I can provide further knowledge into this discussion. Jimmy King, a member of the Fab 5, was present and discussed how he thinks universities are benefiting from their athletes, and thus the athletes should be getting paid. Robert M. Sellers followed his discussion with his thoughts and was quite interesting. First of all, the economics of the system would not work as it is not a viable business model and taxes will come into play. He finished by stating that a real education for student-athletes is sufficient compensation. He stated that “A college degree is worth approximately $1 million extra in life time earning, and 6.2 years in increased life expectancy.” In order for athletes to realize that a scholarship and/or an education is sufficient, the universities must place more focus on the educational development and well-being of the student-athlete. Additionally, we must stop viewing athletics as an entirely separate thing from academics; focus needs to be put on both.

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  2. johnoett · November 21, 2014

    I agree with your concerns regarding how the NCAA would decide who to pay and how much. Making that decision would be incredibly complicated, and certain people would inevitably think they got short-changed. While it may sound like a difficult thing to do, I still think it needs to be done. Players are compensated with scholarships, but some of them bring revenue to their schools that surpasses the value of tuition. Additionally, it is ridiculous that schools can use players’ names and personas to sell merchandise without compensating the players. Fab Five jerseys have been selling for over 20 years now, and none of the players have seen a dime of that money. To me, that is simply wrong. How can schools and the NCAA benefit from jersey sales while maintaining the position that their athletes are “amateurs?”

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  3. maxmcquaid · December 6, 2014

    I agree with your post. The most important thing about college is the education, and paying athletes would take away that importance. I think that if athletes do not value the education, and just want to be paid, they shouldn’t have to play college sports. Most of the athletes complaining about compensation are the top competitors who just end up playing professionally anyway. Why make rules forcing athletes to go to college when they clearly do not want to? If they have the mindset of a professional, to make a lot of money, then they should be allowed to be professionals. College athletics should be about giving athletes an opportunity to receive an education while still participating in the sport that they love to play.

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