It does seem unfair that universities make millions and millions of dollars annually from college athletics while the athletes aren’t paid and can’t profit from their name or likeness.
Yet, if all athletes were to receive payment beyond tuition and expenses for their athletic abilities college athletics would likely crumble.
The reality is only a small percentage of college athletes are talented enough to play pro football, basketball and baseball.
And only football programs, and then only at high-profile schools, make big bucks. Much of the profit from football is used to support the other sports — wrestling, swimming, tennis, baseball, softball, etc. — that lose money.
Without the subsidy from football (and, in some cases, basketball) college athletics would not survive.
The NCAA and universities probably don’t have a choice in the matter. The decision might come from the legal system.
Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon has filed suit alleging a misuse of athletes’ images in commercial enterprises such as TV, movies and video games.
O’Bannon and his lawyers on Thursday moved to expand his lawsuit into a class action, representing thousands of former and current players.
If successful, the suit could expose the NCAA and its member schools to billions of dollars in damages.
U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken didn’t rule on the merits of O’Bannon’s case or whether it can be turned into a class action. She did, however, order O’Bannon’s lawyers to revise the lawsuit to include current players.
O’Bannon could very well win this lawsuit.
But if the NCAA were ordered to share the profit, how would this be done?
If the profit was split equally among all players in each sport, only football and basketball players would make anything. Given that major college football teams routinely carry more than 100 players on the roster, that multimillion dollar pie would be split pretty thin.
If players were to be compensated on their value to the team, as is done in pro sports, then the lion’s share of the cash would go to a few players and the rest would receive far less than their current scholarships are worth.
And there would be little or no money left for the sports that generate no revenue.
In the end, it would be a mistake to pay college athletes as if they are pros.
But it would be wise of the NCAA to relax some of its rules, particularly in the area of living expenses and compensation for endorsements and video games.
Let’s face it, not all college athletes are pure amateurs. The NCAA needs to acknowledge that reality and make appropriate adjustments or face a collapse of the current system.