There's a clear solution to the issue of compensating college athletes more fairly.
It's the Olympic model.
Athletes deserve to share in the wealth created due to their efforts on the courts and fields of our universities.
The question is how should they share in the wealth? What's the best system? Some have suggested that athletes be paid salaries like athletes in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. However, that brings up a host of issues, for example, how will athletes in non-revenue sports like swimming and tennis be dealt with? What are the Title IX ramifications? Will an athletes' union need to be formed to negotiate compensation? If so, how will it operate and whom will the union negotiate with? What about worker's compensation issues? Clearly, a system in which college athletic departments paid athletes a salary would require dealing with a complex web of factors.
There's a better and easier way: let athletes benefit from their fame and likeness like every other student at our colleges and universities. Let them take endorsement money like the coaches that lead them. If the local auto parts store wants to pay a college athlete to sign autographs for two hours during a store sale, why shouldn't the athlete be allowed to take that opportunity? If someone wants to give an athlete a gift -- be it cash or tattoos -- why should that be banned? Music students in college are free to accept cash or gifts for playing a weekend gig at the local club. What makes athletes different?
"Is it so ignoble for a college athlete to make money off his her talent and fame?" asks sports and culture writer Patrick Hruby. "Nobody in America has to deal with the restrictions on income that the NCAA imposes. Actors and musicians can go off to college, be on scholarship, and still make money off their talent. It's morally wrong, and un-American, to prevent athletes from doing the same."
It's time to eliminate this outdated concept of amateurism and allow college athletes to get paid for having their likeness on calendars, for example. It's time to allow the so-called "money handshakes." What other college students are banned from taking gifts? There aren't any.
Critics claim the big-time schools like Alabama and Ohio State would have an advantage in this system. Guess what? They have an advantage in the current system.
LSU has recently been asked to investigate whether star running back Leonard Fournette and his family received improper benefits in the form of discounted services to set up a website to sell Fournette merchandise, USA Today reported this week.
The NCAA quickly shut down the online business, which was going to sell Fournette-related hats and T-shirts. His eligibility is now in question.
"If Fournette and his family want to create a clothing line and sell some hats and shirts then let them do it," wrote sports columnist Dan Wetzel. "LSU already sells his No. 7 jersey all over the place. It can, and does, sell anything it wants featuring him. Obviously there is a huge market, here. A Fournette game-worn jersey recently fetched $101,000 at a charity auction. So why shouldn't Fournette get in on it? Colleges should be encouraging students to start their own businesses, not prohibiting it."
Prohibition, in the form of the amateurism myth, doesn't work. The underground economy in college sports will only grow as the money in college sports grows.
Dumping the amateur myth isn't a new concept. The Olympics dumped the amateur myth and allowed athletes to make money from their athletic ability and fame. And guess what? The world didn't end! In fact, the Olympics are more popular than ever.
"The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids," says New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Paying athletes salaries as university employees is impractical, given the complex set of ancillary issues that option raises. However, allowing college athletes to receive money from outside the athletic department is much more straightforward.
In fact, it's fair and just. And it gets rid of a lot of the hypocrisy in college sports.
"The moral unsustainability of college athletics, as it is presently structured, is a huge issue," says Hruby. "There's a huge college sports economy that for the most part the athletes are left out of... The myth of amateurism has to go. If the NCAA isn't going to pay the athletes directly -- which admittedly is very tricky, a lot of things would have to be worked out -- then at least administrators have to stop telling college athletes that they can't earn money from outside sources."