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NCAA & Amateurism: An Analysis

As the NCAA continues its fight for the continued amateur status of its student athletes, let's analyze the fundamental principle at the core of not only the litigation, but also the internal struggle to evolve.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Facts: The NCAA considers its student athletes to be amateurs. As such those athletes cannot be paid for their athletic talents and performances.

Question: Is amateurism a reasonable standard to which college athletes should be held?

Conclusion: In this instance, the idea of amateurism is merely a construct created by the NCAA to maintain the maximum level of profitability for themselves and their member schools.

Reasoning: One of the items I am most passionate about is the issue of amateurism in college athletics. Specifically, I think the "ideal" of amateurism is so superficial and self-serving to the NCAA and its member institutions that I find it insulting. To begin with, the NCAA defines for itself what amateurism means. Definitely no conflict of interest there.

One of the first arguments defenders of the amateur status raise is that student athletes are being paid through tuition waivers, room & board scholarships, and living cost stipends. I've heard many media members, fans, and even administrators ask this question, "Can't these kids see the value in $35,000 worth of education each year?" The problem with asking such a question is that it misses the mark completely on what the problem is. Forget about the value of $35,000. What is the actual value of the talents possessed by some of these college athletes? If the debate on amateurism could be refocused on that question, it would be over within a week.

I propose the following changes in the lives of the those who are flabbergasted these athletes are not crying tears of joy over a free education worth, for argument's sake, $35,000 per year. Let's make your income set at $35,000 per year so you can live the lifestyle of an amateur athlete and truly immerse yourself in the ideal of amateurism. Wait, you aren't happy with that? Can't you see the value of that money? Perhaps you are so unhappy because you have worked really hard, harder than anyone you know, to craft a skill-set that allows you to do things that 99.9% of people cannot do. Maybe you think that all that work and the resulting talent should allow you to make more than $35,000 dollars. I have to say, you are right!

Refocusing the amateur discussion on the value of each athlete's talent also cures another shortcoming in the general idea that college athletes should be paid. What happens to the athletes of non-revenue sports? Do those student athletes miss out on paydays simply because there is no TV and tournament money coming in from their sport? I have worked many jobs in my life, I've mowed grass, umpired and refereed, worked at the DMV and in a factory. I've been a teacher and coach, and now I'm a lawyer. There are a lot of ways to work hard in this country. Some of those ways earn you more money than others. Sometimes the income has to do with how easily you can be replaced and sometimes it has to do with the industry you are in. None of this means I was less proud of a nice lawn, or less stressed about a parent riding me because their teenager was offside, but the fact remains I earn more money now then I did with those jobs. That is part of life. I am sorry that some athletes who have skills built for tennis would have less opportunity in college to make money as a kid who grew to be 6'7" with nimble feet and a nice crossover, but it is not my problem to fix.

In fact, the most insulting aspect of amateurism is how much of an exception it is in American culture. Let's examine the outlook of an 18 year-old in California who, instead of running a 4.4 forty, plays a mean oboe, maybe the meanest oboe of our generation. Not only would Susie Oboe have her college paid for on a performance scholarship, but she would be free to pursue paid performances and maybe even a seat with a prestigious orchestra. Johnny Business would brag about his paid internship, as would Sally Engineer, but Vinnie Quarterback has to discipline himself to enjoy the pleasures of an amateur athlete.

Ultimately, we should examine issues such as amateurism from the following perspective - If college athletics had not existed until right now, how would they be structured?