The debate over whether college athletes should be paid has intensified over the last several years and is the biggest issue in major college sports today. Over the last decade, many proposals have been put forth but none has stuck. Now, with a few landmark court cases making their way through the justice system, we might finally have some answers.
Last month, Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing agreed to pay a $40 million settlement to former college athletes for using their likenesses in video games. EA went even further and announced that it would be discontinuing its popular NCAA franchise.
The settlement stems from a four-year-old lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. O’Bannon’s lawyers make two main arguments:
1) O’Bannon and other former college athletes deserve a cut of the money that was generated from their likenesses through the sale of video games, jerseys and other paraphernalia.
2) Current players must be compensated for the money that they generate for their schools.
O’Bannon’s lawyers claim that this “enforced amateurism” is a monopoly run by the NCAA that deliberately depresses the monetary value of the players. Many coaches and administrators, however, disagree with the argument.
In an interview with ESPN last month, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said in no uncertain terms that college players will not be paid under his watch. He also added that college players shouldn’t be treated as professionals.
“Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?” said Delaney. “If they’re not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness and establish it on your own. But don’t come here and say, ‘We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.’ Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don’t ask us what we’ve been doing.”
Legendary Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim doesn’t think that college athletes deserve to paid despite the fact that they help raise billions annually for the NCAA and its member schools.
“That’s really the most idiotic suggestion of all time,” Boeheim said during an annual meeting with the Associated Press. “I don’t believe players should be paid. I believe they are getting a tremendous opportunity.”
Despite Boeheim’s stance, there are coaches who a proponents of paying players. Texas football coach Mack Brown has joined other prominent coaches, including Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, in advocating for players to earn a piece of the financial pie.
“I do think players need to be paid,” Brown told ESPN’s Darren Rovell. “These players are killing themselves; at Texas last year we made $163 million.”
Still, even with support from coaches and a potential game-changing case in Federal court, paying players is not as simple as picking up college presidents by their ankles, turning them upside down and shaking the coins out of their pants. Most college sports programs do not make money for their schools. Money generated by football and men’s basketball is often use to fund the non-revenue sports. If colleges get into the business of shelling out top dollar for talent in football, they may also get into the business of shutting down other sports to maintain their profit margins.
There is also the question of where Title IX fits into the equation. Title IX guarantees female athletes the same opportunities as their male counterparts. That means if male athletes are paid, female athletes must be paid the same amount. It doesn’t matter how much revenue each sport brings in. If male athletes were paid more than female athletes that school would be in violation of Federal law.
Title IX is the biggest thing standing in the away of an open-market system in college sports. Nobody is denying that there are large sums of money being made by schools in big-time college football and basketball. How that money is divided is the issue.
Like many things in our society, the answer may be decided in court.
Follow Jesse Metzger on Twitter @JesseMetzger1