Thursday, March 4, 2021
March 4, 2021

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Jayne: Calling a foul on NCAA’s ‘plight’

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According to USA Today, which tracks these things, the University of Washington’s athletic department generates more than $130 million a year.

That’s a lot of money for fun and games, and it’s about twice as much as in-state “rival” Washington State, which helps explain why the Cougars are Sisyphus to the Huskies’ steep hill. And still, those numbers are not close to the $200 million annual range of behemoths such as the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Ohio State.

All of which seems relevant with the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association coming to Congress last week begging for help. “We may need Congress’ support in helping maintain uniform standards in college sports,” Mark Emmert told a Senate subcommittee.

If that seems like an odd stance for the head of a cartel … well, it is. But the NCAA is feeling pressure from legislation that has been passed or is pending in more than 20 states and is threatening to blow up the business model of college sports. In Washington, a bill “concerning unfair practices involving compensation of athletes in higher education” has not made it out of committee.

Such legislation, already passed in California, would allow college athletes to earn money off their name, image and likeness. In other words, the quarterback could do TV commercials for the local car dealer and get paid for it. And the running back could garner a share of the sales of all those jerseys the fans wear in the stadium.

At issue is the fact that college athletes do not get paid beyond their scholarships and stipends for living expenses. Even when their team generates more than $100 million through ticket sales and advertising and TV contracts. Even when their coach has an annual salary of $4.625 million a year, as Washington’s Chris Peterson did before stepping down following the 2019 football season.

Make no mistake, a full college scholarship is valuable. Most college students would volunteer to run into a wall of 300-pound linemen in exchange for a free education.

But as NCAA officials wring their hands over — gasp! — the people who do the work sharing in the revenue, their pearl-clutching seems more than a little disingenuous. “On the one hand, we want to allow opportunities for students to benefit from their NILs,” said Emmert, a former president of the University of Washington. “On the other hand, we want to preserve the character and quality of the uniquely American phenomenon of college sports.”

Meanwhile, according to an Associated Press investigation, the NCAA, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 Conference combined to spend more than $750,000 lobbying Congress last year. Because when the status quo brings you billions of dollars, you spend some of that money to preserve the system. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said: “The NCAA is a well-heeled organization and college athletes, not by accident, don’t have the kind of organization power or influence that the NCAA does.”

In other words, the system is rigged and inequitable, driven by power brokers who make money off the backs of those who actually create the revenue. And while that system has been entrenched for more than a century, the solution seems rather simple.

At both the professional and college levels, football is by far the most popular and profitable sport in the United States. And it is absurd that universities are the de facto training ground for a National Football League that annually generates about $15 billion in revenue. Until a viable minor league is established, one catering to athletes who want to get paid and prepare for the NFL without attending class, the NCAA will continue with its farcical model of amateurism.

Of course, because the universities, coaches, NCAA, TV networks and fans have no interest in changing that model, it will never happen. When the only ones who would benefit are the workers, the inevitable result is a condescending pat on the head from the powers that be.

But just because something is inevitable doesn’t make it right.

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