Solution Proposal Final Livia

Giving Student-Athletes Their Rights Back

The exploitation of college athletes, particularly athletes in Division I men's basketball and football programs, has been an ongoing topic of controversy within America's higher education system for decades. This controversy is accentuated each year by football and basketball championships, when the public's disposition of outright madness is exposed and vigorously expressed. During these times in particular, revelations and expositions proliferate, censuring how graduation rates and the recruitment and commodification of young men and women solely for their athletic talent and potential (Branch).

A succession of scandals in recent years have made this depravity of college sports constant headline news. The public expresses outrage each time a story about a student-athlete taking money from under the table comes to surface. However, the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, where student-athletes produce billions of dollars for universities and private companies while receiving nothing in return (Branch). The power of the system to hold these athletes out for derision while portraying them as subjects of moral disgrace distorts the real transgression here. The conditions of the athletic scholarship and transfer rules, prohibition against agents, failure to deliver on the promotion to educate, and the unobstructed selling of athletic images are just a few examples of the tools of exploitation that benefits college sports leaders while oppressing those who actually perform on the field/court (Staurowsky).

The mix of business and college sports makes this topic so controversial because both sides seem to have legitimate arguments. People who believe student-athletes are far from exploited support their argument by stating that college athletes receive scholarship money, elite training opportunities, student-assistance funds, academic and supports services, free medical care/insurance, and exposure/new experiences ("The Value of College Sports"). On the other hand, others who believe athletes are definitely exploited combat these arguments by professing that athletes work a 50-60 hour week in training for their sport while having a relatively nonexistent social life. They are also not guaranteed their scholarships and experience immense pressure to perform at their best and obtain a certain degree of academic performance (Branch). Student-athletes are also required to sign what's called the Student-Athlete Statement in order to remain eligible for NCAA competition (Berfeld). Within this document is a section that grants permission for the NCAA, member schools, conferences, and "a third party acting on behalf of the NCAA" to use an athlete's name or image for promotions (Berfeld). Athlete's effectively transfer the right to profit off their own image to the NCAA. Robert Givens, a law student who wrote an article about the economic exploitation of student-athletes by the NCAA in the UMKC Law Review, commented, "Essentially, for as long as you want to play for this school at the DI level, you cannot make any money for anything that is directly tied to your athletic achievements…All of these possibilities go away with your signing of this agreement" (Berfeld).

This problem has sky-rocketed in recent decades due to the increasing business of college athletics. Many causes could be linked to this problem, but the most prominent cause is simply money. There's no doubt that college athletics generates a lot of money. The NCAA makes billions of dollars selling the rights to televise games and selling merchandise and jerseys (Thomas). The Student-Athlete Statement athletes must sign in order to participate and maintain amateur status makes certain that virtually any financial gain from an athlete's abilities, likeness, or name would go to the NCAA (Cline). The NCAA has athletes sign this contract supposedly to ensure athletes compete purely for the love of the game rather than for profit (Cline). Yet, the NCAA, its member institutions, and coaches are able to benefit greatly from the profit. According to an article published by USA Today, the highest-paid public employee in 40 states is a college football or basketball coach (Cline). They earn salaries that are in the millions per year and are able to earn even more through endorsement deals (Branch). By contrast, the athletes they coach, whose skill and talent are the very reason for the coaches' fortunes, must sign away the right to earn any sort of income (Cline).

More specifically, the nation's 25 highest-paid college football coaches at public universities are paid an average of $3.85 million a year in guaranteed money (Baumbach). To put that in perspective, that's more than the $3 million NFL Jets coach Rex Ryan earned last year (Baumbach). There are currently 128 schools with football programs that compete in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision, which is the highest level of competition. Of the contracts obtained from 108 of those schools, it is revealed that the coaches of those teams made an average of $1.75 million this past year, which doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of dollars of incentives, perks, and benefits from their contracts (Baumbach). The average salary of a DI men's college basketball coach receives is $1.5 million, not including bonuses (Schnaars). However, coaches form the top basketball programs can make as much as $9 million, which still doesn't include any bonuses (Schnaars). Athletic programs generate revenue that allows their athletic departments to be self-supporting and have millions left over to help fund academic programs ("Why College Coaches Get So Much Cash"). However, the leftover money usually goes into a fund and stays within the athletic department. This is because a college's high-profile athletics program is often the strongest marketing device the school has ("Why College Coaches Get So Much Cash"). A team (in whatever sport) competing at the national level draws worldwide attention, which bring multiple benefits to the school. In order to compete at the top level, schools must maintain winning teams, which means paying millions of dollars to retain great coaches and developing/improving the facilities of the athletic department to keep athletes fit and focused. Brit Kirwan, Chancellor of the Maryland State University system, stated, "It's really an embarrassment for higher education that at a time when both colleges and universities are having fiscal challenges and tuition is rising that has everybody alarmed, here we are paying coaches at the level they're being paid" (Baumbach).

Hence, student-athletes are obviously being exploited. Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the infamous article "The Shame of College Sports", asserted, "For all the outrage, the real scandal is that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence'amateurism' and the 'student-athlete'are cynical hoaxes; legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes" (Thomas). Whether or not college athletes are being exploited should not even be a question. The only concerning question is how society can correct this problem.

One proposed solution to this problem would be to simply pay the athletes for their hard work. Instead of fixing the problem, this solution would just cause more major issues. For instance, it would be very hard to distinguish which athletes get paid. Is it every athlete playing those specified sports or just the elite? The major problem this solution brings up is that players cannot be paid without invoking Title IX (Dosh). Title IX prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, which includes athletics ("Title IX Defined"). All athletes (male and female) would have to be paid the same amount in order to avoid issues with federal law. Also, it would be hard to determine the amount to pay players. Would there be one set amount for every athlete (no matter the sport or school) in order to keep things fair? If athletes are allowed to get paid for endorsements, it would give some programs an unfair advantage (Dosh). All in all, the solution to pay student-athletes would cause more harm than good.

Due to the increased business and academic scandals of college athletics, lawsuits against the NCAA and selected universities have increased in the past few years. These lawsuits seem to be the only solution athletes are venturing in order to get their voices heard and promote change. One of the lawsuits include former UNC women's basketball player Rashanda McCants and former UNC football player Devon Ramsay (McCann). These two former athletes filed this lawsuit in light of the University of North Carolina's academic fraud. They claim that "…a shadow curriculum at UNC steered athletes toward programs and courses that lacked rigor so as to free up as much times as possible for athletic commitments while ensuring continued academic eligibility under the NCAA rules [through inflated grades]" (McCann). This case is ongoing and a verdict has not yet been reached.

Another lawsuit comprised of former UCLA men's basketball player Ed O'Bannon, who filed a lawsuit against the NCAA in July of 2009 (Strachan). O'Bannon argued that players should be compensated in some form whenever their images and likenesses are used in advertisements or video games (Strachan). A judge ended up ruling against the NCAA, resulting in college football and basketball players to receive more money from schools than they were already receiving (Berkowitz). However, the judge ruled against the idea that the athletes be paid for endorsements, claiming, "It would undermine the efforts of both the NCAA and its member schools to protect against the 'commercial exploitation' of student-athletes" (Berkowitz).

My solution to this growing problem would be to enforce rules that protect student-athletes from being exploited. More specifically, athletes should not be required to agree with everything on the Student-Athlete Statement in order to remain eligible to play. They should not have to sign over their rights to the NCAA and member institutions, allowing them to benefit from the athlete's own talent. Also, coaches, athletic directors, and NCAA personnel should definitely not be paid as much as they are now. The money should go back to the university as a whole instead of the athletic department or the coach's salary. The money ought to be dispersed evenly throughout the university with the focus on the improvement of students' education and lessening the stress of financial burdens. Past and present lawsuits from former and current athletes are slowly bringing awareness to this problem and a few of the verdicts of the lawsuits are actually improving the manipulation of the athletes. I believe that in the next decade or two, more awareness will be brought to this problem, thus, triggering more lawsuits that will eventually give student-athletes their rights as players and students (instead of "money-makers") back.

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