'Should College Athletes Get Paid?' Is the Wrong Question

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In "The Shame of College Sports," Taylor Branch argues that college athletes should be paid. Agree or disagree.

How to Fix College Sports Whether big-time college athletes should be paid is the wrong question. Given the historical record, which shows that the NCAA well knew that it had established a pay-for-play system with the creation of the athletic scholarship, that question is moot. To entertain it is to validate the cloak of fictions as manifest in terms like "student-athlete" and "amateurism" that form the basis for the NCAA's defense of business and educational practices that should be abolished.

The real question is why the NCAA has been permitted for over 60 years to get away with denying the full measure of the contributions athletes make who serve as the central attraction in college sport spectacle.

At the core of every position taken by the NCAA regarding athlete compensation is its principle of amateurism. Despite the central role that amateurism plays as a foundational principle on which the college sport enterprise is built, the manual itself is silent on the question of what an amateur is.

If the principle of amateurism is so central to the beating heart of the NCAA and serves as a rationale to deny athletes recognition as workers along with the protections and benefits associated with that status, then why no definition of amateur?

Walter Byers, former executive director of the NCAA, whom Branch quotes in the article, has an answer. It was Byers who observed, "Amateurism is not a moral issue; it is an economic camouflage for monopoly practice."

That monopoly practice has resulted in a system of controls over college athletes lives that should inspire a healthy fear among anyone who cares about fair and equitable treatment in a democratic society.

We should be past the time when we fall for the NCAA party line that suggests that a "free education" is adequate compensation for college athletes who generate billions of dollars in revenue for corporate marketing and media partners. In a recent study I just completed in collaboration with the National College Players Association, we estimate that football players in Football Bowl Series institutions have an average market value of $121,048 (not including individual commercial endorsement potential). At the same time, due to the limitations of athletic scholarships, which do not even cover the full cost of attendance leaving an average shortfall of $3,222 to be covered by athletes on full scholarships, the average FBS "full" scholarship athlete earns approximately $2,000 below the poverty line.

As commercial interests in college sport continue to grow, the fictions understandably become more difficult to sustain. The shame rests not with college sports per se but with higher education officials who have served as the architects and promoters of such a system.

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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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