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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Column: The love of the game

kenSince Little League, Pop Warner and youth basketball leagues, many of us learn that we should play “for the love of the game.” This phrase has been ingrained into many a young athlete. We train, we eat right, we share the ball because it’s “the right way.”

In many ways, I don’t disagree with this philosophy. To me, the team basketball of Wisconsin was a much better viewing experience than the isolation, me-first offense of Kentucky. I love the life lessons former UCLA coaching legend John Wooden imparted on his players to help them both on and off the court. In short: I am a firm believer in playing sports “for the love of the game.”

Yet, I strongly disagree with the use of this phrase as a reason for why college athletes should not get fairly compensated for their work. Playing “for the love of the game” is not the same as being free labor for a corporation which makes millions off of the hard work.

According to a USA Today article, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) made a “nearly $61 million surplus for its 2013 fiscal year” and had a year-end net asset of more than $627 million. In other words, the NCAA makes a ton of money off of college athletes.

These college athletes do not see a cent of the money that the NCAA makes, except the tuition and room and board scholarships which they receive.

That sounds fair. After all, these athletes are getting an education for free and in turn, they play for their college. Sounds like a win-win situation.

The problem? These “students” are on the practice field more often than they are in the classroom. According to the evidence presented in a recent regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case — in which the players at Northwestern University earned the right to unionize — football players at Northwestern University spend close to 50 hours a week on the practice field or with the football coaching staff.

Beyond that, there have been complaints that students were dissuaded from taking “difficult” classes and majors. What is the point of giving students “free education” if they can’t challenge themselves and strive for betterment in the classroom just as they strive for progress on the field?

Some might say these student-athletes generally don’t care about their education anyways. The worrying evidence presented by a former tutor turned whistleblower at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in regard to the low academic standards of certain athletes is an example of how desparate universities are to field “top athletes.”

While it is sad to see this type of maneuvering happening in college athletics, I don’t see this as a failure of the athletes — rather, this is a failure of the NCAA. For all we know, these athletes at UNC could really believe that they are succeeding in school. The system has failed them and has made their “free education” useless.

This is unacceptable in its own. However, it brings to the forefront another injustice which collegiate athletes face. If their “free education” has been made useless due to the watering down of classes and the lack of accountability in the educational system for athletes, what do these athletes really gain?

The answer? Nothing. Meanwhile, the universities gain prestige and recognition and the NCAA gains millions of dollars off of these athletes. You know the NCAA Football video game that is annually released? Well, the athletes never see a cent from that despite the fact that their likeness is used in the game.

On a slight tangent, thankfully Electronic Arts, the company that makes the NCAA Football video game, has decided not to make the game for this upcoming year due to the tension between the NCAA and the athletes regarding, guess what, compensation.

Back to the point. Athletes aren’t getting a fair shake. There isn’t fair compensation for all athletes. Believe me, I know not all athletes are the same and this doesn’t affect all athletes equally. Some athletes are great students and are able to gain valuable skills in the classroom which will help them for the rest of their lives.

However, this is not consistently happening, especially for a lot of the athletes who play major “cash cow” sports, meaning men’s basketball and football. The NCAA is at fault for this problem.

Some might say, “So what? Even if the athletes don’t learn, they don’t need compensation. Let these college athletes play for the love of the game.”

That is a load of bullshit.

What if you were a great artist and the university said they would give you a free education for your paintings. Then, the university turned around and sold your paintings for millions, way more than what your education cost. Isn’t that unfair?

This isn’t about athletes being ungrateful and unwilling to “play for the love of the game.” Rather, it is about the unfair nature of the NCAA’s business practices and the fact that many student-athletes are being treated like professional athletes while at the same time being paid like “amatuer” athletes.

Just because they’re athletes and get more publicity and fame than an artist would does not make the NCAA’s treatment of them alright. Something needs to change. Whether it be payment of the athletes, more intensive focus on the educational benefits college has on athletes or even letting high school students go straight into the NBA — I’m calling you out, Adam Silver — something needs to change.

So, congratulations to former Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter and those who led the charge for unionization at Northwestern. I hope it signals a change in the NCAA system because despite my “love of the game,” I hate the system.

If you want to defend the NCAA you can contact KENNETH LING at sports@theaggie.org.



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