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The integrity of the amateur status of athletes involved in NCAA Division 1 athletic programs has been called into question ever since the Southern Methodist University football scandal of 1987. Athletes involved in Division I programs are working as full-time employees for the school as both athletes and students, yet they are receiving little compensation in return. Throughout the history of the NCAA, it has been felt by most that a full ride scholarship is enough and that the players do not need any more incentive to participate in college sports.
But in today’s world, a world based in greed and desire, the only thing that players want is money. So when student athletes leave college early in order to play professional sports, it is hard to blame them for leaving. However, the NCAA still believes that athletes must remain amateurs. This statement means that athletes continue to receive only scholarship money, while universities gain more and more revenue from these athletic endeavors. The organization complains about the academics of the athletes and how they do not graduate, but they provide no incentives for the athletes to stay. The time has come for the NCAA to get over itself and give the athletes compensation for their great accomplishments.
Earlier in the semester, I attended two different events, one from Amy Perko and the other from Taylor Branch. Perko argued that a free education is enough compensation for student athletes and that the problem in the status quo is the individual’s failure to take advantage of the opportunities given to them. She believes that in a world where athletes have their priorities straight and understand what they need to do to have success in college then they should not have to be compensated for what they are doing on the field or in the arena.
On the other hand, Branch argued that student athletes do not have any rights – they are denied the opportunity to get involved at the University because of the time commitment necessary for both sports and school. He said that student athletes are simply cogs in the machine of the University and they should be compensated for their efforts, the same way that a non-student athlete would.
I think something important at the heart of this analysis is how money changes the ways that people act and it puts them in positions to make decisions that they may not have made under different circumstances. College athletes want money just as much as anyone else, and when many of them are given the opportunity to seek a career financially favoring themselves instead of staying in school, they are going to choose the option that has more money.
At first this decision may seem to be one of strictly self-interest, but I believe it is more than that – the athletes are also leaving in order to fight the system. They leave the structure which has inhibited their ability to do what they want and in turn find more success. In the same light, this action could be seen as a type of civil disobedience. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. writes that it is necessary for people to fight the system in peaceful ways because that is the only way to create a constructive dialogue.
This argument from King has two reasons: first, if people were to simply try and create a discussion without resistance he says that there would be no compromise and people would not give any credence to the arguments from the other side. Second, if the revolution were to be violent, he makes the same argument – a physical clash is not going to create any sort of constructive engagement.
In the same light, I think that this argument holds to what is happening with college sports. Athletes are trying to show the universities that they are worth more than what they receive, and that they deserve to be compensated for what they do for the school. Many student athletes want to be paid because of all the extra work that they have to put in when compared with the average student. They also do not have the luxury of being able to sleep-in because they have to go to their athletic practices. These kids are outworking everyone else on campus and even some people in the real world, so it makes sense that they would get paid for it.
And unless the system is challenged, change is not going to happen. If athletes act complacent to the system, no change is going to happen because people do not realize there is a problem. On the other hand, if athletes violently protest the NCAA, they are going to be just as unsuccessful because they will just be revoked of their ability to play college sports as a whole.
I think that both Perko and Branch made good points as to why athletes should or should not be compensated, but ultimately I think that Branch is correct. Athletes give too much to the school to not be paid, especially when there are students who receive equal benefits without giving the same amount of effort back to the school.
On top of that, I think more athletes need to start leaving college early to send a message to the NCAA. Kentucky basketball is a great example of athletes leaving early – the majority of their players leave after freshman or sophomore year. This type of disobedience and defiance of the system is effective and need to continue in order to take down the system plaguing college sports.