When I was in college, many years ago, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.
This is not meant as a form of bragging, but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?
Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw?
Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.
But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.
This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.
There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny-even a free lunch from a recruiter-for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.
This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.