NCAA: Time To Treat Players Like Ducks

College students who’ve actually spent time in a classroom have likely come across a popular and fundamental example of inductive logic called “The Duck Test”. It goes like this: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… then it’s probably a duck”.

When contemplating the prominence of college sports to our economy, as say, compared with the difference between college athletes and their professional counterparts, the definition of a duck is seriously skewed.

And purposely so.

The fact of the matter is, one is a duck while the other is paid like one.

Facts aside, even as arguments in the antitrust lawsuit, O’Bannon vs the NCAA, opened in Federal Court in Oakland this week, college sports’ governing body is still actively attempting to peddle the worn out argument that athletes should play for their respective institutions, and the love of the game, as well as tuition, books, and meals only.

Yet as UConn’s Shabazz Napier pointed out so brilliantly in a post-game press conference, however, and as Heisman Trophy Winner, Jameis Winston, demonstrated so poorly by shoplifting, the NCAA meal plan is overly bureaucratic, as well as unenforceable considering the high price of king crab legs while wearing a large baggy shirt.

But I digress….

Meanwhile, esteemed and liberal institutions of higher learning exploit the talents of young, superstar athletes (mostly minority), then organize themselves into super sports conferences, such as the PAC-12, the Big-12, and the SEC, who sell out stadia around the country, and profit handsomely from generous television contracts. Additionally, teams around the country supplement their budgets with huge revenues from merchandise, such as jerseys, hats, equipment, and even athlete’s names, images and likenesses (NILs), which is the thrust of the argument in O’Bannon vs NCAA.

We are talking tens of billions of dollars that flow from television and merchandising to elite college sports teams – zero of which is used to compensate performance labor.

That is about to change. Maybe not with the O’Bannon case, but others, such as Kessler, are still to be heard. As these cases work their way through the courts, each one will undermine an NCAA monopoly that exploits performance labor in an environment that is nothing more than just an improvement over slavery.

But the governing body isn’t giving up. During testimony this week the former President of CBS Sports, Neal Pilson, expressed concern that compensating college athletes would “change the fabric” of the game” because it would detract from the purity of youthful enjoyment of sports.

In other words, as in politics, it’s all about looking out for the children.

Tell that to former Alabama wide receiver, Tyrone Prothro, famous for one of the greatest catches in college football history on September 10, 2005, but whose career suddenly ended when he shattered both legs during an end zone play just three weeks later. Prothro later authored “Catch & Hold”, and hoped to include in his book a few images of himself from his school’s website.

‘Bama demanded $10 per picture, however.

It is unknown precisely what Prothro told the Crimson Tide they could go do to themselves, but needless to say, he didn’t buy the pictures.

The NCAA’s most powerful argument, that compensating its players would destroy the balance between athletics and academics, is also it’s weakest. Major college sports requires time and dedication, and anything less diminishes a players’ opportunity on the field. In that regard, balance is an illusion since training demands outweigh attention to study time. The former is a quest for a dream, while the latter is a process toward a degree and a greater chance of upward mobility.

The NCAA has seen some exceptionally talented scholar athletes work their way through the college ranks. Pat Haden was a great example of the scholar athlete “ideal”. But the vast majority of our college athletes are not as well-read as Bill Walton, neither as intelligent as Bill Bradley, nor did they manage to graduate from Harvard, like Jeremy Lin. They are the exceptions.

The majority of our college athletes look the part, play the part, and are committed to their role as college athletes in ways that are useful to their school and the NCAA. Moreover, they quack just as loud as any professional athlete, and therefore should receive some form of compensation that takes into consideration more than just the value of their educational opportunities.


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