It’s tough to get the US Supreme Court to vote unanimously on anything these days, but on Monday they all agreed with something I’ve been saying for 30 years: College athletes should be paid.
Everybody knows that college sports bring in enormous sums for their schools, particularly the big three of men’s baseball, basketball and football. It’s usually enough to pay for the entire athletics division at an NCAA school, which might include dozens of other, less lucrative sports as well as staffing for those teams, arena management, coaches’ seven-figure salaries and enough line items to make your eyes go blurry.
Everybody is making money — from the athletic director all the way down to a guy scalping tickets to a ‘Bama game in the parking lot — except the athletes themselves, who don’t even get paid for jersey sales with their names on them. Not only are they cut out of the enormous revenue stream, in many cases they are forbidden to work off-campus jobs or take money from pretty much anybody.
They do, of course. Top-tier college athletes roll like rappers: cars, clothes, jewels. But it’s all other people’s money, “gifted” from wealthy alumni, boosters and fans, which is also not allowed under NCAA restrictions. But, I mean, what are they gonna do about it? If the NCAA really wanted to enforce every rule on its books, they would probably have to suspend every elite college program under its purview for at least one season and probably four.
When I was in college in New Orleans, the Tulane men’s basketball program was in the third year of a 4-year suspension for point-shaving in 1985, which brought the whole program to a screeching halt. You know why those guys were shaving points? They needed the money.
That year, I had a work-study job as part of my financial aid. Later, when I was sports editor of the Loyola Maroon, I got a check for my service at the end of the semester. What’s the difference between that and paying a sophomore linebacker for his season? Do you have any idea how much time it takes to participate in a high-level college sport? Like all of it.
Honestly, I don’t even know why this is still a debate, why we’ve allowed the NCAA to run its plantation-like business model for so long, why the Supreme Court hadn’t weighed in on it sooner.
White supremacy, probably, and greed. In the NCAA, it’s hard to tell the difference.