FOGEL: Rights, not pay, for play

Student-athletes should not be paid, but the NCAA needs to provide them with adequate rights

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is once again using television and marketing rights fees to rake in cash. The multi-billion dollar industry, however, continues to deny student-athletes simple rights such as selling their own autographs and fails to provide significant aid in the cases of athletic injuries.

Student-athletes competing in the NCAA are subject to a multitude of restrictions, including the inability to accept pay for “promoting a commercial product or service or allow[ing] your name or picture to be used for promoting” as well as using “athletics skill for pay in any form in that sport.” This needs to change.

Contrary to my fellow columnist Gray Whisnant’s article, which argues for the payment of college athletes, a Washington Post-ABC News public poll revealed that 64 percent of people believe that college athletes should not be paid salaries. On the other hand, enabling college athletes to promote commercial products or sell merchandise would provide a loophole so that athletes could receive pay without affecting NCAA funding for schools.

Another restriction, which impedes athletes from profiting from the use of their names, images and likenesses, is currently in the midst of a pending lawsuit which is supposed to go to court in June.

Considering that the NCAA generates over 90 percent of its revenue from television and marketing rights, it is reasonable to suggest that athletes should be compensated for the use of their names and images and be allowed to make money off of their names in general. If they have ownership over their own names, college athletes can earn money from jerseys or autographs. It seems trivial that Joe Harris is not allowed to sell his autographs whereas University students can sell as many Joe Harris autographs as they please. Just as a student has the right to sell her autograph, so too should players like Joe Harris, regardless of which organization or team he represents. We don’t surrender our personhood — or rights to it — at the door of the locker room.

Outside of loosening its restrictions, it is crucial that the NCAA formulate certain rights for student-athletes. Such rights should include — but should not be limited to — long-term medical payments in cases of athletic injuries as well as financial aid if an injury causes the loss of an athletic scholarship. For example, if one of Michigan State’s basketball players sustained an injury so serious he can no longer play basketball and therefore loses his scholarship, the NCAA should not only provide payments for long-term medical coverage but also supply the player with financial aid.

Some restrictions within the NCAA, however, should be kept intact.

Last week, sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler filed a lawsuit suing the NCAA over athlete compensation. The lawsuit aims to remove the earning cap for college basketball and football players in order for them to effectively receive money beyond scholarships.

I side with the NCAA in this case largely because the NCAA claims over 90 percent of its annual revenue is distributed back to member schools either directly or through programs and services. This means the revenue from basketball and football programs directly impacts other NCAA sports as well as the schools themselves. Taking away from this revenue to pay athletes would drastically decrease funding for all other sports and decrease the money allocated back to schools.

Some justify the restriction which bars athletes from receiving gifts such as cash because gifts could essentially become a way of paying players salaries, if unregulated. It is best to keep this rule because gifts could turn into a form of bribery to entice a recruit to commit to a particular school. Nevertheless, it still seems unfair that every student at this university except athletes can receive gifts or cash from friends or others without a second glance.

While changing the NCAA rules may be easier said than done, one productive way to see effective change would be the creation of college player’s union. In fact, this week, the National Labor Relation Board decided a group of scholarship football players at Northwestern University “qualify as employees who can form a union and bargain for benefits.” This is a landmark decision that should lay the foundation for future “student-athletes” to also be considered employees. More importantly, it will provide the groundwork for the bargaining for athlete rights in the future.

If college players can gain rights for their medical and financial benefit, then there will not only be less of a push for player salaries but also an overall incentive for these players to compete at a higher level. Only then will the NCAA regain credibility as an effective and respectable institution.

Jared Fogel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published March 28, 2014 in Opinion

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