A few years from now will colleges still be able to attract the nation’s best athletic talent by dangling free college classes in exchange for their athletic service?
To date, the American “amateur” sports model has been a basic one: Play your sport at our school and we’ll offer you free classes in return. Over the years, however, everyone involved in college sports has gotten paid (and many paid quite well), while student athletes receive today the same compensation of free classes in exchange. Colleges have responded to this perceived inequity by saying that the value of their 4-year degrees can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I have personally called this in to question by saying that if this were true, why won’t colleges offer a choice to student athletes: Take the free classes, or instead receive a check for the full value of the four-year education. While it is unlikely we will ever see colleges provide checks instead of free classes to student athletes, there does appear to be a monumental paradigm shift just around the corner, one that will likely forever change the face of amateur sports in America.
Big names are already skipping college
In just the last few weeks a couple big name basketball players, RJ Hampton and Kenyon Martin, Jr. have decided to skip college and head straight for the pros. Unlike sports like baseball where players can jump straight from high school to professional ball, basketball players still have to play a minimum of one year in college before declaring for the NBA — that is, until newer routes to the NBA were discovered. Is this the beginning of the end when it comes to the traditional way in which amateur athletes transition to professional sports?
Aside from wanting to make money, more would-be college athletes seem to be increasingly more bothered by watching coaches, administrators, and various other support staff earn big dollars off their on-field efforts, and unusual and new ways of getting around the college model are being investigated as a result. While college sports carry on with the ways things have always been done, big changes appear to be happening right under their noses.
Letter of the rule, or spirit of the rule?
To date, the NCAA has simply doubled and tripled down on the reason why college student athletes don’t get paid is because it’s amateur sports. This hard-line, absolute model hasn’t changed, even though literally everything else has — including revenue, salaries, and even the efforts required by college student athletes needed to excel in both their sport and the classroom. Still, the NCAA rule is amateurs play for free, regardless of the aforementioned changes. A better, more modernized way to look at amateur sports might be less “letter of the rule,” and more spirit of the rule. What this means is that the NCAA loosen up on the ways in which student athletes make a few dollars from outside interests, as well as the finding ways to increase stipends and other college financial support. The “we have always done it this way” rejection of paying student athletes seems aloof at best, and downright wrong to many student athletes upset watching their coaches making tens of millions of dollars directly from their athletic efforts.
What’s going to be the next chapter in college sports? With big name high school players more regularly exploring non-college options, it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before the NCAA will be forced to make big changes to their “amateur” model. New professional leagues and international opportunities will only grow in the future, allowing future student athletes considerably more choices than the college athletes who came before them.