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Miller: Student-athletes are subject to double standards from athletic conferences

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“They’re not exploited. They’re educated.”

That’s what two Division I conference commissioners – Larry Scott of the Pac-12 and Val Ackerman of the Big East – wrote about college athletes in a CNN Op-Ed earlier this week. Entitled “College Athletes Get More Than What a Salary Can Buy,” Scott and Ackerman argue that collegians should not be directly compensated for the products (athletic competitions) they create because a) players already derive numerous benefits from their athletic participation and b) doing so would somehow morph them from students to employees. Perhaps not surprisingly, this piece is a well-timed propagandistic veil, meant to distract the viewing public from the fact that the athletes participating in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be paid $0 (like, zero) of the $760,000,000 CBS and Turner are shelling out for the broadcast rights.

Here are the lowlights (or highlights, depending on your politics) of the piece:

College athletes (particularly football and men’s and women’s basketball players) don’t need to be paid because they already receive scholarships, and the education and degree they obtain should be pay enough.

First of all, there are far more college athletes than there are athletic scholarships, meaning that not all athletes (particularly in the non-revenue sports) enjoy the full-ride referenced by Scott and Ackerman. At Stanford, for instance, there are nearly 900 varsity athletes, but only 300 or so athletic grants-in-aid (NCAA-speak for scholarship) available for disbursal. The Op-Ed glosses over the fact that, while football and basketball players receive full grants-in-aid, their peers on the swimming, track and field, wrestling and soccer teams may well be incurring “oppressive financial obligations.” Of course, the NCAA’s members could always raise the scholarship maximums for Olympic sports, but why would they when that money could be spent on, oh, I don’t know, administrative/coaching salaries and palatial facilities?

Secondly, the promise of an education and degree touted by Scott and Ackerman is delivered far too infrequently, especially for black male athletes (who comprise 63 percent of the players on Final Four team rosters). A recent study by the Penn Graduate School of Education found that only 53.6 of black male athletes in Power 5 conference schools graduated within six years on enrollment, nearly 15 percentage points behind all athletes (68.5) and over 20 points short of all undergraduates (75.4). UNC, which will battle Syracuse for a spot in Monday’s championship game, only graduates 45 percent of its black male players; the Orange are at 42 percent, and it’s 51 percent at Oklahoma. Of the 41 African-American players who will suit up this weekend, less than half could very well never receive a diploma from the institution they currently attend. Half! Administrators love to say that they’re paying athletes in an education, but when fewer than 50 percent of black male athletes (the ones generating the lion’s share of college sports-related revenue) actually graduate, that promise is as empty as their bank accounts. These athletes are not, in fact, educated; they’re exploited.

Finally, and maybe most fundamentally, if the offer of education that Scott, Ackerman and others of like mind tout is sufficient, then it should be able to survive in the marketplace without the crutch of collusion. That is, if education and a degree are pay enough, then Stanford shouldn’t have to agree with San Francisco State not to give an athlete anything more than a grant-in-aid. If merit and value of education or so undeniable, then subjecting it to market forces should pose no problem.

“We hope the day never arrives when students are paid salaries, turned into professionals because of lawsuits that disregard these critical principles. These are not professional athletes. They’re students. It’s that simple.”

So if athletes are just students, why not treat them like students? Why not give them the same ability to profit off their name, image and likeness as students? Why not allow them to monetize their skill sets like non-athletes are permitted to do? Why not allow them to transfer anytime, anywhere and for any reason without jeopardizing their eligibility to play immediately? Why not allow them to accept basic human decency without worrying whether doing so might permanently bar them from college sports?

If you want to call them “student-athletes,” then treat them like students. It’s just that simple.

“If the critics prevail, higher education will never be the same again. And that would be a march into madness.”

Yes, because it would be a “march into madness” to afford college players the same economic rights enjoyed by administrators, coaches and their fellow students. A “march into madness” to allow them to directly profit from the mutual-billion dollar college sports empire built on their backs. A “march into madness” to recognize the painfully obvious fact that education and pay are not mutually exclusive.

Larry Scott and Val Ackerman had a wonderful opportunity in the days preceding the spectacle that is the Final Four to bravely envision a better future for college sports. Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging that the Orwellian world of college athletics requires a radical revamp, particularly with regard to the ideal of amateurism and the collegiate model, both commissioners adhered to well-worn NCAA talking points in striking back against a growing number of critics who observe a patently unfair, laughably hypocritical system. These two administrators, like a majority of their peers, hold doggedly to a concept of amateurism that denies college athletes basic economic rights, and refuse to even consider a future where players are free to monetize their athletic skills. Scott may point to his conference’s string of legislative proposals to indicate that the Pac-12 is prepared to step boldly into a new era of college athletics, but these tweaks still fall far short of giving athletes the “fair shake” NCAA President Mark Emmert claims they deserve. Only when college players are given the same freedoms and rights as the rest of the student body will they truly be treated fairly.

Only then will they not be exploited.

 

File a lawsuit against Cameron Miller for refusing to write about nothing other than student-athlete rights at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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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 [email protected]