The topic I am about to discuss has been thoroughly debated in the public sphere over the last several years, though I think I bring a slightly different perspective to the table. Many feel college athletes ought to receive compensation beyond scholarships for the contributions they make to their universities. Most proponents have suggested the schools pick up the tab by offering players a portion of any profits generated by their sport. A popular idea is to lock this money away in a trust fund until the player graduates to provide an incentive to stay in school. This has its pros and cons, but I would rather not get into them. I am fully in favor of professionalizing college sports but in a manner that completely bypasses the universities and any issues of fairness to other students and the purpose of our higher education system.
I propose that athletes be allowed to earn money in any way they can via the free market. For football and basketball players, this might mean signing contracts with sportswear companies, advertising commercial products and selling signed memorabilia. For track athletes or swimmers this might mean collecting prize money from races or charging fees for coaching. The possibilities are endless, and I say let the players cash in on any money-making scheme they can dream up.
The ideal of amateurism the NCAA clings to is a relic of a bygone era. Even the Olympics, which stood by its gloriously naive paragon of the part-time athlete for 100 years, has allowed professionals to compete since 1992. The amateur ideal was invented in the 19th century, partially as a way to ensure “fairness” in sport by effectively restricting the amount of time athletes could train. The well-rounded gentleman was supposed to dabble in many things but excel in none. These concepts quickly became outdated when sports grew in popularity and the public demanded better and better performances. Sure, it was nice that Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier while training during his lunch break at medical school. But would it not have been better if he ran 3:50 with optimal training and a longer career?
The capitalist society in which we live champions the values of unrestricted markets and fair compensation. It is simply unjust to restrict the earning potential of collegiate athletes when their peers are able, and in fact encouraged, to convert the skills they develop in the classroom into cold hard cash via internships and competitions. Why is Terry O’Shea ’16 allowed to win $100,000 on Jeopardy, while Johnny Manziel cannot sell his autograph for $100?
Allowing athletes to independently market themselves and earn an income is beneficial for everyone and detrimental to no one. The players, many of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds, finally earn dividends on their investments, schools earn more money by feeding off the increased popularity of their athletes and the NCAA keeps its star athletes around for longer.
Eddie Owens is a varsity athlete on the men’s cross country and track teams.