How Colleges Exploit Student-Athletes

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In "The Shame of College Sports," Taylor Branch writes that the NCAA has "an unmistakable whiff of the plantation" and that student-athletes are denied their Constitutional right to due process. Agree or disagree?

How to Fix College Sports I would agree with Mr. Branch that the present college sports system replicates patterns of colonialism.

In December of 2009, college coach agent Jack Bechta wrote a column in The Agent's Journal about his visit with Texas Longhorn head football coach, Mack Brown. He wrote, "As an agent who represents coaches, I believe we'll start seeing more $5 million-per-year football coaches in the new few years."

While college coaches get help from seasoned agents who know how to negotiate terms favorable to their clients, the athletes who may have similarly high profiles and serve as the central attraction in college sport spectacle are barred from such representation.

The one-year scholarship makes athletes vulnerable to dismissal if they do not perform at levels satisfactory to their coaches, and they have no safety net if another college team does not pick them up. There is no severance if an athlete is let go after one or two years due to coach-controlled decisions, such as oversigning, or if an athlete suffers an injury and simply cannot perform. Due to transfer rules, athletes who are not getting much playing time or simply clash with coaching staffs are subject to the wishes of their coaches, who may deny them the right to go elsewhere.

Most of the college athlete incidents in recent years that have been characterized as "controversies"—from Reggie Bush to Cam Newton to Terrell Pryor—center on issues related to whether college athletes are given an opportunity to receive fair market value for the contributions they make to the business of college sports. For college athletes to be held to the terms and conditions of a one-year scholarship that have been set by the very authorities who financially benefit the most and render the athletes involved voiceless in the process is a glaring conflict of interest.

The power of the system to hold these athletes out for ridicule and disparagement while presenting them as subjects of moral outrage distorts the real impropriety here. The conditions of the athletic scholarship and transfer rules, prohibitions against agents, limits on due process, failure to deliver on the promise to educate, the unobstructed selling of athlete images, and the like are tools of exploitation that benefit college sport leaders while oppressing those who perform on the field.

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Ellen J. Staurowsky is a professor in Drexel University's Department of Sport Management and is co-author of the book College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth. More

Ellen J. Staurowsky is a full professor in the Department of Sport Management at Drexel University. She is internationally recognized as an expert on social justice issues in sport which include gender equity and Title IX, pay equity and equal employment opportunity, the exploitation of athletes, the faculty role in reforming college sport, representation of women in sport media, and the misappropriation of American Indian imagery in sport.

She is co-author of the book College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth. In addition to publications in scholarly journals such as the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Sociology of Sport Journal, Quest, Journal of Sport Management, the International Journal of Sport Sociology, the Marquette Sports Law Review, the Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport, and the International Journal of Sport History, her critiques and analyses on a variety of issues have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, The NCAA News, The New York Times, Athletic Management Magazine, and News From Indian Country.

Dr. Staurowsky has received numerous honors over the years. Temple University recognized Dr. Staurowsky with a Young Alumna Achievement Award in 1998 and in 2005 she was presented with an Excellence in Professional Performance Award. She has been named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers on numerous occasions and she is a recipient of a Faculty Appreciation Award from students at Ithaca College. In 2002, she received the Ithaca College Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship. In 2005, Dr. Staurowsky received the Ithaca College Office of Multicultural Affairs Appreciation Award and the IC Feminists Woman of Achievement Award in 2006. In December of 2008, she was named the first recipient of the National Residence Hall Honorary (NHRR – Ithaca) Faculty Member of the Month. Recognized with the Darlene Kluka Women’s Sports Foundation’s Research Award in 2008, Dr. Staurowsky was also honored that same year with a Presidential Award from the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport. In 2009, Dr. Staurowsky received the Ithaca College Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2010 and 2011, she received the Ithaca College HSHP Dean’s Awards for Excellence. In 2011, she was also awarded the Loughlin Award by Ursinus College. Dr. Staurowsky is frequently sought after for interviews to discuss contemporary sport issues.

She has made several appearances on ESPN Outside the Lines, ESPN Classic, ESPN Cold Pizza, and Public Broadcasting’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Staurowsky served as a director of athletics at the college level for nine years and previous to that was a college coach in the sports of field hockey, men’s soccer, and women’s lacrosse.
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