So, don't give them scholarships
It's not a matter of "if" the sensitive subject of exploitation of college athletes comes to a head, it's a matter of "when". And judging from the rash of recent developments, which include momentum for the Ed O'Bannon case and the brand new Johnny Manziel autograph scandal, it feels to me like the head is forming.
Any good cause needs a spokesman. The women's movement had Gloria Steinem. The Sleep Number bed had Lindsay Wagner, and pay-for-college-athletes now has ESPN's Jay Bilas.
For years, the analyst has been on a crusade to the expose the NCAA and its member universities for profiting off the images, likenesses and name value of college athletes, who don't receive a dime in the exchange. "Why shouldn't Johnny Manziel be allowed to profit from his signature or image," Bilas asks. And what Bilas, and others like him, find truly disgusting is that not only can Manziel not profit from Manziel items, others certainly can. It may not read "Manziel" on the back of that Aggies #2 jersey hanging on the sales rack inside the campus team shop, but everyone knows what/who they're buying. And Manziel doesn't get a piece of that? You can't tell me that's right.
So, this is the fight. And it's a fair one. College athletes, and especially football and basketball players, are certainly being exploited, used by the system to generate HUGE profit, and the players not only don't receive a cut, they're not allowed to independently profit from their name or likeness, either.
Now, for the opposing argument:
"Don't receive a cut? These athletes are receiving a free education, room and board, the college experience most of us can only dream of. My word, tuition at Stanford for a single year is $60,000! Most people don't make 60-grand in a year. How could anyone say that college athletes aren't getting paid?"
Another fair argument.
If both sides are making compelling arguments, what's the solution?
Well, I have good news, for I have the solution, and I'm going to share it with you.
But before you read on, I should warn you. The following material is jarring. It will challenge everything you thought you knew about collegiate athletics, every hope you had for believing a shred of purity remained in collegiate athletics. I'm asking those of you who continue with this article to open your minds to a bit of radical thinking.
I'll give you a couple minutes to think about it...
(WAITING FOR YOU)
Alright, good. For those of you who stayed with me, thank you. Here we go.
The headline reads:
If the argument against paying college athletes is that they receive a free education, then let's not give them a free education.
Here's what I'm proposing:
Every college athlete that agrees to play sports for a university is given an option: They may either participate in college athletics as a student-athlete OR as a paid university athletic employee.
As a student-athlete...
• You will receive free tuition, free room and board, and access to all campus facilities.
• You will agree to abide by the restrictions currently in place as standards for the student-athlete as put forth by the NCAA and reinforced by one's chosen school.
• Any money accepted will threaten your status as an amateur, and could lead to the forfeiture of privileges due to the student-athlete.
• You will actually have to earn your college degree, and one will not be handed to you because you're an athlete who needs to stay eligible for the good of the team.
• You are subject to the rules and guidelines set forth by your respective coach/coaching staff.
• You are a representative of this university and will conduct yourself as such.
As a paid university athletic employee...
• You will receive free room and board.
• You will receive an annual stipend that pays no more or no less than any stipend on campus, whether you're here to play quarterback for the university or the tuba in the marching band. The stipend will be set at $10,000 per year, far less than the award of an athletic scholarship, but the money can be used at the athletic employee's discretion. No more money will be awarded for any reason, or both employee and university official(s) will face termination.
• As employees, you have the freedom to seek other forms of income. An employee is allowed to work a job on or off-campus, in lieu of time spent going to school and studying.
• An athletic employee owns his or her own brand and may profit from it. For example, he or she may conduct paid autograph sessions, and will be entitled to cut deals with team shops for a percentage of branded merchandise sold, etc.
• Athletic employees are respresentatives of the university and must conduct themselves in a manner that will not reflect negatively against their employer or they will surely face fines, suspensions, or termination of contract. Societal law and campus law must be adhered to, including the role of paying taxes for income earned beyond the tax-free $10,000 stipend and $7,000 room and board fees afforded each student in their university contract.
• Like student-athletes, athletic employees are subject to the rules and guidelines set forth by the individual's coach/coaching staff. One may have a job at The Gap, but he or she must not let it interfere with practice or game schedules, or the individual is once again subject to fines, suspensions or termination.
• Unlike student-athletes, athletic employees do not have the right to change their minds and take the other option that was given to them upon their arrival to campus.
Now, I will open things up to questions. Yes, you...
REPORTER 1: Yah, WTH?
ME: I'm glad you asked. Here's the point.
See, I came to grips a long time ago that if someone plays baseball better than me, he should receive the playing time, or the scholarship or the Major League contract. That's fair.
But I EARNED my college degree. Why should someone get the same degree that I have, when they haven't gone to class? Why should someone receive a FREE education that they don't want and certainly haven't earned? Because they're better at sports than me? Now, that's unfair.
What I'm asking for is that we finally start being honest about what's going on in college athletics.
The universities are taking advantage of student-athletes, and student-athletes are taking advantage of the universities. So, why pretend any longer? Allow student-athletes, who are interested in the value of an education, to pursue a free education. And let those who simply want to play ball while proudly representing the university they choose to play for be low-wage employees of the university.
REPORTER 2: Well, won't this just lead to bidding wars for players?
ME: Yes. But since when have we in America told folks how to spend their money? If some Texas oil tycoon prefers to spend a million dollars on the best track athlete in Arlington for his alma mater over feeding the homeless, why should we interfere? We don't stop the tycoon from dropping a hundred grand per night on 18-year-old strippers at the gentlemen's club, do we?
Are we morally opposed to the idea of an 18-year-old millionaire second baseman at Arizona State? Or does the concept just sound so foreign to us that we dismiss it because it makes us uncomfortable?
REPORTER 3: But, Chuck, won't that just lead to competitive imbalance? Do we really want Alabama to become the Yankees of college football because they outspend everyone?
ME: I've got news for you: Alabama is already the Yankees of college football. And do you honestly believe John Calipari has built the elite program in college basketball based on the quality of the University of Kentucky's business program?
Absolutely this could lead to bidding wars in sports, but at least it would be done on the level. Pizza boxes filled with cash wouldn't be sent to dorm rooms anymore, and Reggie Bush's parents could have kept their home and he his Heisman without any crisis in the media.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, the money's not coming from the university. We certainly can NEVER get to the point where Nick Saban and Les Miles are bidding for players with campus funds, because the sports world has proven to us that it can't control its spending? But if some jackalope from Huntington, West Virginia wants to invest his cash on the risky, no-refunds payment of a 17-year-old with a million dollars in his pocket being able to perform on the field for the Mountaineers, while conducting himself in a professional manner on and off campus, that's the jackalope's cash to waste. The university isn't beholden to the booster's poor judgment. If they want to cut a kid loose, they can cut a kid loose. Money squandered. And a rich idiot is a little less rich.
REPORTER 4: How would you possibly monitor this system of yours?
ME: Well, like anything else, you can't be everywhere at all times. But I would hire a Commissioner to oversee the league of employee-athletes. Jay Bilas, perhaps. He'd form a committee that would work with the NCAA in setting forth rules and guidelines, like one would for any upstart organization.
REPORTER 5: But doesn't this just send the wrecking ball into the notion of amateur collegiate athletics?
ME: Yes, and thank God.
It's liberating, isn't it? No more lies from the NCAA about the purity of this corrupt system they've been running for years. No more lies from university presidents about the "educational commitments of all our student-athletes."
This is big business, people. No sense burying our heads in the sand about it.
You can call me crazy. I know I am. But deep inside of you, some part of you is whispering, this crazy guy may be onto something.
Chuck Powell, KTAR.com & ArizonaSports.com contributor