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Miller: Scholarships are not compensation for student-athletes

A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of UConn’s victory over Kentucky in the national championship game, I wrote a piece decrying the blatant unfairness of the NCAA’s revenue model and its rules governing its so-called “student-athletes.” I hesitate to even use the latter term, as it just further engrains the belief that all collegians are students first and that their contributions to their universities’ athletic programs are a secondary priority. That is the NCAA’s goal: to cement the “amateur” status of its players, when in reality those individuals — particularly in revenue-rich sports such as football and men’s basketball — are nothing but cash cows.

I want to delve into one of the issues — that a scholarship is not compensation and thus cannot be counted as remuneration from institution to player — that I raised in that column, and flesh it out more thoroughly.

An athletic scholarship is essentially grant-in-aid that allows individual to attend a university at no or a reduced cost. This aid is awarded on the basis of the individual’s ability to contribute to his or her team and can fluctuate yearly depending on his or her performance. But rather than go into the athletes’ own pockets, the scholarship money goes directly into the university’s coffers, which then allows the individual to attend class and fulfill NCAA academic eligibility requirements. Thus, when a program enters into a scholarship agreement with a player, the player is signing a contract stipulating that he or she will compete for the program, and in return “have the privilege of” enrolling in degree-applicable units — which is necessary to be an eligible collegiate athlete — at a reduced price.

Let me present an analogous situation to make this explanation more palatable. Let us say that a law firm hires a new attorney. But in order to be eligible to try his or her cases, the attorney is forced by the firm to attend continuing education classes. These classes, albeit expensive, allow the lawyer to refresh and expand his or her knowledge of the existing laws and legal precedents that are key to the successful resolution of the cases currently before the firm. However, instead of paying the attorney through commission or on an hourly basis, the firm decides the only compensation it will provide to the attorney is covering the amount of the continuing education courses. In this way, the lawyer is basically working for free, since the classes are necessary to even attempt to contest their suits.

Is this situation not unfair? Is it not unjust to require something that allows an employee to perform his or her job and then turn around and only compensate the individual by paying for the completion of that “something?” What about remuneration for the performance of their actual duties?

There are many similarities between the example I have very roughly sketched and the situation a segment of collegiate athletes find themselves in: denied even a sliver of the ever-increasing profits — from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, apparel contracts — their hard work and the efforts of their predecessors ultimately secured.

Without their tireless work during the week, Stanford’s football players simply wouldn’t be able to present a competitive show that puts people in seats with ridiculously overpriced beverages in hand on Saturdays.

If not for countless hours spent studying film or training on the practice court or strengthening in the weight room, there’s no way Chasson Randle and company could’ve made the Sweet 16 — resulting in invaluable brand exposure for Stanford Athletics and the University as a whole.

I can see the rebuttals from academia and the general public coming from a mile away: aren’t revenue-sport athletes still students first? Isn’t their overall objective to earn a degree, not simply use collegiate athletics as a de facto development league before they jump ship to the pros? Isn’t the value of an education reward enough?

These are admittedly tough questions, not easily answerable and certainly not generalizable across a large population of athletes.

But ask yourself: Do the NCAA or member institutions view these individuals first and foremost as students or employees, given their unique ability to generate huge profits for both entities?

Tougher still.

Just know that while you’re pondering, the NCAA will be busy milking its cows dry.

Cameron Miller really, really does not want to get milked by the NCAA, especially by president Mark Emmert. Give him some strategies for how a cow can evade its milkers at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu and send him to greener pastures at @camerunmiller.

About Cameron Miller

Cameron Miller is a sports desk editor for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 245 and is the men's and women's golf writer. Cameron is also a Stanford student-athlete, competing on the cross country and track and field teams. He is originally from Bakersfield, California, but spends most of his time away from the Farm on the state's Central Coast. Contact him at cmiller6@stanford.edu.