I left-off my column series on the O’Bannon v. NCAA case last week with a personal story explaining my own experience with the NCAA’s draconian restrictions on student-athlete compensation.
As you may recall, I had a most unique opportunity — the role as an extra in the soon-to-be released distance running movie McFarland — denied me by several NCAA bylaws governing the ability of collegiate players to profit from their athletic skill and expertise. In this case, because I was to be paid — barely — to run as an extra in a movie, my eligibility would have been jeopardized, which was, obviously, the last thing I wanted.
Of course, these types of prohibitions only apply to individuals under the NCAA’s authority. Theoretically, a non-student-athlete — perhaps one who ran in high school, or competes on Stanford’s club distance running team — could have accepted the role with absolutely no repercussions on their ability to compete in whatever meets or races they chose. However, if I, as a member of the varsity cross country and track team, jumped at the opportunity, the Stanford compliance office (if they found out) would declare me immediately ineligible for NCAA competition; I would then face the likely long and arduous task of reinstatement, which, again, was a hurdle I was not keen on navigating.
I hope you see the striking inequity of this situation: as a student-athlete, my behavior is regulated and controlled more so than any other “regular” (I do not use this term pejoratively) student on any campus of higher education. If a budding collegian novelist wanted to sell her work to the public, she could do so without consequence. If a young artist thought he could make a profit from his paintings while still in college, he could pursue his entrepreneurial goals uninhibited.
But God forbid we allow Todd Gurley or Jameis Winston (c’mon folks, he probably did it) from accepting money for their John Hancock. Are you kidding me, NCAA? Is this America, where people — all people — are entitled to the pursuit of happiness (i.e. money), or Soviet Communism? Because sometimes, actually, a lot of the time, it appears as if the NCAA believes it is operating in Soviet Moscow rather than its compound in Indianapolis.
Fortunately, not all sports enjoyed by college student are NCAA-sanctioned; one of these is bass fishing. Regardless of your personal views on whether bass fishing is truly a sport or not (I believe it requires a fair amount of skill, but to call it “sport” is little bit a stretch for me), it provides us with an example of the benefits of competing without NCAA restraints on compensation.
Here is the story: bass fishing, an activity as truly American as they come, is not an NCAA sport. The NCAA does not hold or sponsor a national championship event for bass fishing, and asserts no authority over collegiate bass fishing teams. Despite the lack of NCAA-backing, collegiate bass fishing is becoming ever-more popular and profitable for both schools and anglers alike. For instance, the national championship managed by Fishing League Worldwide awards a purse of $30,000 to the winning school, with team members able to dispose of their share of the purse in whatever way they choose.
These two articles go more in-depth on the collegiate bass fishing scene: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-13/college-bassletes-find-fishing-pays-off-without-ncaa-s-oversight.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/sports/a-paycheck-for-college-athletes-join-the-fishing-team.html.
The long and short of it is that collegiate bass fishing is thriving, despite the fact that its participants are awarded prize money and have the ability to be sponsored by third parties — two methods of compensation the NCAA has expressly prohibited its athletes from accessing. These kids are still fulfilling their obligations as students (they realize that bass fishing likely will not pay the bills or put food on the table) while simultaneously having the opportunity to receive economic benefits for their skill and expertise with the rod.
The prospect of making money from their athletic endeavors has not perverted these young men; they haven’t been “exploited” by third-party commercial interests. The negative consequences the NCAA contends will befall its athletes if they are paid for their athletic prowess are totally absent from the collegiate bass fishing landscape — shocker, right?
All of this goes to show that being paid for one’s athletic achievements — bass fishing, for instance — does not corrupt the sport or its athletes; rather, it enhances the experience of the participants by awarding something of real value for success.
Cameron Miller is rallying a contingent of freedom-loving Americans, with their bass fishing poles and “Don’t Tread On Me!” T-shirts, against the socialist and tyrannical NCAA. Cameron is calling his super PAC “Tax-Evading Athletes (TEA PARTY PATRIOTS).” To join the movement to take back America, e-mail him at cmiller6 ’at’ stanford.edu.