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Miller: No other students restricted like student-athletes

In response to my initial column lambasting the NCAA for its backwards relationship with its athletes, my colleague at The Daily, Joey Beyda, penned a well-written rebuttal piece in which he argued that “student-athletes” should not have a cut in the exorbitant revenues their talent, skill and hard work secure. Furthermore, he claimed that allowing these individuals to privately profit off of their likeness or performance would simply exacerbate “the same income inequality that plagues our country today.”

Let me preface my own rebuttal by saying that I have immense respect for Joey’s dedication and the body of work he’s produced at The Daily. He’s been a sports desk editor — a largely thankless job — for too many volumes to count and continues to be the leader behind The Daily’s transition to its new website design. If there’s anyone I want emulate in my remaining time as a Daily sports staffer, it’s Joey Beyda; his influence on this paper will be felt for years to come.

Now that I have dispensed with the pleasantries, it’s time to get down to business…to defeat Mr. Beyda.

I vehemently disagree with Joey’s assertion that the current NCAA rules disallowing athletes from taking to the free market and attempting to profit from their skills, likenesses and autographs should remain entrenched. Not only are these restrictions unfair, they are unjust — more so than denying players a slim cut of the ballooning television revenue their games rake in.

First, no other students on campus are restricted and held down like “student-athletes” are. If computer science phenoms want to accept a sponsorship deal from a software company, they are free to do so. If chemistry whizzes want to get paid for a talk they might give to elementary school students on the importance of the sciences, there’s nothing stopping them. If English majors that have just written best-selling novels want to do a book signing, they don’t have to be wary of a multi-billion dollar “non-profit” swooping in from above and suspending their writing privileges.

So god forbid that we allow Johnny Football to sign some mini-helmets, or Terrelle Pryor to trade memorabilia for tattoos or this writer to be an extra in a movie about long-distance running. Yes, I’m still angry about that.

Point being, if other students can take their talents to the free market, why shouldn’t the NCAA athlete be allowed to do the same?

Second, Joey’s example of a “player from poor roots but with a 2350 SAT score” that chooses “the option that increases my short-term exposure” drips with a paternalistic flavor I cannot stomach. Mr. Beyda assumes — and we all know what that does — that the draw of a football-crazy Oklahoman environment will be more enticing than the world-class education a player could take advantage of at Stanford. This assumption discredits the individual’s ability to gauge what decision is truly the best one for him: It may be the path that leads to immediate gratification or the one comes with a delayed reward.

But who are you to say that one choice is better for him than the other? That’s for the individual to decide, not Mr. Beyda — or anyone else, for that matter. And if the kid has a 2350 SAT score, he’s likely to have the ability to think critically and make the right choice about which situation — in Norman or Palo Alto — will benefit him the most in the long-run. So don’t assume that just because of his background he’ll choose “unwisely.” It’s not our responsibility to pass judgment on the decisions of others.

Lastly, on the topic of increasing existing inequality, I understand Joey’s concern. If players are allowed to profit from their likeness and performances, athletic departments and associated boosters will be able to throw the full weight of their financial resources at recruits in order to influence a decision. This could allow the fiscally dominant programs to land even more prized recruits than they otherwise would, leaving smaller schools out in the cold. But that’s the inevitable result of laissez-faire, free-market capitalism: some win and some lose. The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.

And there’s nothing we should do to tamper with that.

Cameron Miller was furious when he learned that his own colleague, Joey Beyda, took the role of “Background Runner #5” that he so desperately wanted. To give Cameron ideas on how to seek revenge on Joey, email him at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tweet him with #RunnersRevenge at @camerunmiller.

About Cameron Miller

Cameron Miller is a sports desk editor for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 246 and is the men's and women's golf writer. He also writes on NCAA-related matters. 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.
  • Miles

    Interesting piece, Cameron. I’m very interested in your take on the free-market aspect of athlete compensation. Most Division I sports lose money, should those athletes then pay to play? In the current system, where is the players’ risk? The free market says that football, men’s basketball and maybe baseball are attractive to television sponsors, and track and field, men’s volleyball, women’s lacrosse and many many more are not profitable–yet those athletes pay nothing (not counting blood, swear, tears and years of their life, trivial stuff to a capitalist).

    And I guess that because this stuff happened to me, I selfishly would also like to point out that while the large prizes, grants and awards for collegiate chemists and musicians and mathematicians might result in cash in the students pocket, many many more suffer a similar fate to the student athlete when accepting the gifts. If you are on financial aid, any of those prizes result in a direct 1-for-1 hit to your financial aid package that, while not rendering you ineligible and certainly helping by giving you a sweet item for your résumé, do not translate into net profit. I think it’s stupid to stop you from being an extra in a movie and threaten your eligibility, but I’m not so sure it’s the worst thing to continue classifying student-athletes as such, until a better system is truly vetted and developed.

    That said, no matter what, the compensation question is very complicated and I’d be interested to hear an economist analyze why it could or could not be reduced to free market economic theory.

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