The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.
University of Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier told reporters that he often went to bed starving because he could not afford food during his college career. University of Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey lost eligibility for college play after taking “illegal gifts” that included money from an agent. A Texas A&M runner had his eligibility taken away after his business violated National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) guidelines. Because he was selling his own brand, his business threatened his eligibility on the grounds that his athletic achievements were profitable. These events are just a few of many that encapsulate the worst parts of being an athlete in the NCAA. However, the largest governing body of college sports has not always restricted their athletes’ academic and personal endeavors.
In 1910, the NCAA was founded with the sole intent of keeping athletes safe, ensuring the sport would never be put before the individual’s academic experience. Even today, the NCAA’s core values are to advocate for the pursuit of excellence in both education and sports. But after more than 100 years that ideal fails to still be true.
Most recently, the NCAA has been at a crossroads with their athletes. While many collegiate athletes believe that they should be compensated, the NCAA prevents their attempts for change with strict regulations that refuse to allow athletes to be paid for their play. If players are compensated through stipends or yearly salaries, athletes would have to forfeit their amateur status. The amateurism model in the NCAA is a hallmark of the organization, as the ideals of professionalism would result in the depreciation of academia at universities.
“For me the role of the university is education first, in high school there’s extracurriculars, you’re supposed to do your school work and then you can be in band, be in theatre or play football etc,” states Dr. Dennis Coates, a sports economist at UMBC.
Despite being a multimillion-dollar company, the NCAA will never give athletes their fair share of the revenue because they believe being paid would potentially devalue the education that is provided for college athletes. Additionally, paying college athletes would unleash a bevy of complications when it comes to determining a player’s amateurism and their salary. This would set up a draft-like scenario where colleges would bid on incoming student athletes, thereby determining their market value, and in turn, the athletes would pick the college that best fit their academic, athletic and financial needs. This professional model would tarnish their aforementioned amateur status, ousting them from the NCAA. This change would call the governing role of the NCAA into question and most likely alter the business drastically by making finance a larger priority.
An alternative to paying athletes professionally would be through increased scholarship benefits. As of today, the average athletic scholarship is only around $10,000 over four years. Tuition and room and board costs are typically between $20,000 to $50,000 a year. This solution would be the most realistic since it allows the NCAA to maintain students’ amateur status as well as remain a powerful governing body.
On the other side of the spectrum, college athletes are expected to balance an academic and athletic career and the latter often comes first. College athletes are often asked to quit their rigorous majors in favor of the sport they play. For example, Kain Colter, a Northwestern quarterback, was advised to drop plans as a pre-med major in favor of his athletic career. As a college athlete, the hours spent on sport-related activities compare to that of a full-time job. Despite the NCAA restricting in-season practices to 20 hours per week, athletes have reported to practicing 30 and even more than 40 hours a week. More specifically, in a 2010 survey pertaining to the student-athlete experience, more than 75% of Division 1 baseball players have spent “as much or more time on athletic activities” as they do their coursework.
“For those who are really and truly trying to get a college education and perform at the highest level of their sport, that’s gotta be incredibly difficult,” states Dr. Coates.
Over the past several years, the NCAA has been making additional claims that directly contradict its original purpose, like in 2013, when the family of a Frostburg athlete who died during football practice filed a suit against the NCAA. In response, the NCAA claimed the organization’s responsibility is not to physically protect student athletes. With a lack of concern for their core values, the NCAA is leaving their non-profit ideals behind and taking on the identity of a corporation.
“I think it’s about finding out what [each] university is about, and when you do that then you know which things take precedence,” says Dr. Coates.
Although athletes like Napier and Pouncey were able to play professionally, the NCAA acted as a foundation for their careers. In order to support athletes and their futures, the NCAA should begin to consider compensating student athletes with stronger scholarships or begin treating student-athletes as students before athletes.
Written by Julian Basena, The Retriever Intern for the 2018-2019 Academic Year. Basena will be attending the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall to major in journalism.
Photo by Julian Basena.