By Marcus Shockley
I won’t go so far as to defend Jim Tressel, the highly successful coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team who was forced to resign this week in the wake of heavy NCAA violations and an ongoing investigation. I do want to examine the curious disconnect that exists among fans and players about what is acceptable for pro players and businesses but not acceptable for amateur athletes.
Let’s start by pointing out that the vast majority of college athletes don’t get the chance to take special privileges, gifts, or anything of that nature. While it does happen, it’s more rare than people think. However, if we only consider the top programs in big money sports, namely college football and college basketball, it’s not that rare at all.
But instead of digging into the ongoing saga of college athletics and how top programs often break the NCAA rules in order to win by bringing in the top athletes, I’d like to suggest that some of the behavior that is condemned in the media and by fans is the same behavior that is perfectly acceptable in business and in life. It’s been said before that some players are pros long before they enter college and have to ‘pretend’ to be amateur for a year or two in some cases.
The issue I raise is that businesses use every advantage available to them, and are expected to do so. For example, the NFL can negotiate higher television contracts each time around because their ratings and popularity continue to grow. It’s an advantage that they have that other leagues could not leverage. But a college athlete cannot use their name recognition to profit in any way; they can’t get better deals on things they purchase or get money for appearances, or anything. The college can make money on them, of course. But not the players. Is it any wonder that the NCAA fights so hard to keep from having to pay any players? They are banking on using the player’s marketability while at the same time preventing the player from doing the same. The question really is, who owns the player’s likeness? The NCAA claims that they (the NCAA) do.
So while openly cheating to win is something I despise, I find it a much tougher, more grey area when it comes to ‘benefits’ to players. It’s hard to get past the fact that the NCAA is also using their position to force players into binding agreements which equal legalized indentured servitude. The college is trading tuition, training and exposure for massive profits on the players’ marketability. For players who have little chance of playing professional sports, the deal is fine, especially if they are serious about getting their college degree. But for the elite players who are bound for pro paychecks, it’s a completely different scenario.