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Piece of the Pie

Piece of the Pie

Money is an important issue for almost all college students. Very few are lucky
enough not to have the financial burdens of tuition, housing, and food interfere
with their academic initiatives. Some students have parents that are wealthy
enough to cover all of the costs of college. Other students are given financial
aid from the university that they attend. If necessary, students can get jobs to
help differ the costs. There are no restrictions put on most students as to
where they can work, or how much they can earn. Most students have this freedom,
but varsity athletes with scholarships attending Division I schools do not. The
National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of collegiate
athletics, restricts these athletes from having jobs. Even though these
athletes would have a hard time make room for a job between practices, meetings
and games, they are not even given the opportunity to do so because of the NCAA
regulations. These regulations are based on the fear that athletes could be
employed by affiliates of the university, who could attract the best athletes by
unjustifiably paying them extraordinary salaries. While this may be a valid
concern, the regulations are most often carried out to ridiculous lengths which
ultimately do not serve the purpose they are intended to have. For example,
Northwestern University has an aspiring young actor named Darnell Autry who also
happens to be the starting running back for the University's football team.
Darnell was offered a role, based entirely on his acting abilities, in a major
network's sitcom. The NCAA nearly forbid him from accepting this offer based on
the regulations against athlete employment. Darnell was eventually allowed to
accept the job, however, the NCAA did not allow him to get paid for his work.
They reasoned that the cost of the flight out of Chicago was payment enough for
Darnell. As in Darnell's case, the regulations cause more problems then they
The prospect of the money waiting for many athletes, like Darnell, when
they leave college, leads them to abandon their education and head straight for
the professional leagues. Some athletes, like Shawn Kemp or Kobe Bryant, skip
college entirely. Kemp and Bryant both went directly from high school to the
National Basketball Association, and are currently making millions of dollars a
year. Other athletes, such as Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby,
Terry Glen, and Tim Biakabatuka, all college phenomenons from basketball and
football, skip as many as three of their remaining college years. The lure of
fame and fortune is making more and more athletes leave college early each year.
Even those that stand a slim chance of ever becoming professionals cannot resist
the temptation to leave. These athletes often end up without the million dollar
contracts, and more importantly, without college degrees to fall back on. The
pressure these athletes feel from being so financially limited by NCAA
regulations also makes them consider leaving early. Many of these athletes'
families would not be able to pay for college costs were it not for their
scholarships their sons and daughters receive. Such athletes are hard pressed to
ask their parents for extra money for the costs not covered by scholarships.
These scholarship athletes are put at a great disadvantage because, unlike other
students at any given university, including those on academic scholarships, the
athletes are not allowed to have jobs to earn the extra money they need. The
idea of leaving college early almost seems honorable in contrast to some other
temptations to which college athletes may succumb. In the past few years the
NCAA has seen many incidents involving player infractions of regulations. In one
particular scandal, members of the Florida State football team were caught with
illegal gifts from Foot Locker, provided by a corrupt agent. Florida State is
not the only University with such problems. The University of Miami, and Auburn
have been two notoriously corrupt athletic programs. Such situations are all to
common, as officials on every level seem to look the other way. Their students
are enticed further and further by the temptation of money, until the
universities are investigated by the NCAA. This an example of how the NCAA
regulations create an environment where the athletes can give way to the extra
pressures placed upon them. The pressure they feel often leads them to cross the
line between what is legal and illegal according to the NCAA, as in the Florida
State Foot Locker scandal. Since they are not usually caught, and even when they
are the penalties are not very severe, it should then come as no surprise that
sometimes this line is blurred to the point that more serious crimes are
committed. The athletes begin to feel as if they are above the NCAA laws. This
attitude is even more harmful when it carries over to the laws enforced by the
police. For example, Lawrence Philips, a star running back from the University
of Nebraska, was arrested for harassing his girlfriend. He was not even kicked
off of team, and is now making millions of dollars playing in the National
Football League. The players actions are obviously not justified, but the NCAA
should try to modify its regulations so as to prevent these situations from
occurring. The NCAA regulations are not unfounded. However, they are
unreasonable. Instead of restricting their athletes from having all jobs, for
fear of unregulated corruption, why not regulate a job they have already? Why
not pay the athletes for the "work" they do for the university? If the NCAA gave
these athletes a modest salary, something equivalent to what they could get paid
at any other university job, were they allowed to have one, they would feel much
less pressure, and temptation. Most people object to the idea of paying the
players because of the competition it would foster within the team. Who would
decide how much each player receives? Another issue this question raises is of
the projection to high school seniors deciding where to attend college. Would
starting salaries, not educational opportunities, become their priority in
deciding where to attend? These problems would be easily eliminated by
standardizing the salary across Division I sports. It would not be impractical
to devise a scheme based on the hours a player spends a week and a moderate wage
to provide a moderate income for these players. For example, suppose an athlete
spends 25 hours a week on his or her sport. A 10 dollar an hour wage would yield
250 dollars a week; the same amount he or she might make at any other job.
Assuming there are no more than a few hundred scholarship athletes, the cost
would be a fraction of what most Division I schools make each week from one
football game's ticket revenues alone. Furthermore, since the salaries would be
standardized, there would be no competition between team members, and schools
would not feel pressured to offer recruits the highest salaries. Others may
argue against paying athletes because the scholarships should be enough payment.
The are receiving a free education and should be grateful for it. Furthermore,
paying student athletes would only cloud their purpose at the University,
enforcing the idea that the only way they will make money is through sports. The
athletes would feel less like students because both the coaches and the athletes
would find it harder to keep academics as the number one priority. The fact that
many argue that scholarship should be enough payment for athletes illustrates
the paradoxical nature of the current situation. The Division I schools
acknowledge that outstanding high school athletes should be rewarded, and they
give such athletes scholarships. However, a scholarship is not always a reward
for an athlete. Many of the scholarship athletes would not be able to attend
college if it were not for their scholarships. By admittance being contingent
upon athletic scholarship, the athletes priorities become clouded. Are they a
student first and an athlete second, or vice versa? If a scholarship athlete
stops participating in his or her sport, he or she can no longer be a student.
They cannot be a student, without being an athlete first. The problem of
priorities is compounded further by the innate conflicts that arise between the
academic calendar and athletic events. The conflict between being a student and
being an athlete comes directly into play whenever an athlete has team
commitments, upon which there scholarship depends, during classes. Should he or
she travel to the away game and miss classes, or skip the game and study? These
conflicts are so complicated that they may not even be solved by paying athletes
a salary. A scholarship, for an athlete who could not otherwise attend a
university can often be a "lose-lose" situation: the athlete cannot be a
dedicated student if he or she has to put all the time an effort in to sport,
but the athlete has to be an athlete first before he or she can be a student.
The added pressures that result from the NCAA regulations make it even harder on
these athletes. While salaries may not clarify the priorities for a scholarship
athlete, they would at least make being a student a more reasonable and
manageable choice. By treating Division I sports like a job, the athlete's role
might be made clearer. It is accepted on the professional level that sports are
a business, and therefore, an athletes job. On the surface, championships seem
to be the main goal for most athletic teams. However, in a move that devastated
some of the most loyal fans in football, this year the Cleveland Browns left the
city of Cleveland and became the Baltimore Ravens. The Cleveland Browns had a
long history and a rich tradition. Nevertheless the material motivations of
their owner, Art Modell, took precedence, and illustrated that the most
important goal is actually maximizing profit. On the professional level, the
revenue is reflecting in the large salaries of the players. College players,
however, see none of this money and can only watch from a distance and yearn for
the day they too will get their share of the millions. The money generated from
ticket sales, television contracts, commercials, clothing and other
paraphernalia is astounding. At the college level revenue often funds the
university and its other athletic programs. College players, despite being part
of the same exact "business" as the professionals, do not share the same
recognition. They should receive money for their work, just as any other student
does for any other job. It is time for the NCAA and the Division I schools to
re-evaluate the current state of there athletic policies. Every year more
students leave college early, without a degree, for the sole reason of money.
Every year an athletic program is investigated, put on probation or suspended
due to violations of NCAA regulations. Above all, athletes priorities are left
in limbo between academics and athletics. By giving the athletes salaries, the
NCAA could maintain control over the fraudulent jobs that the regulations were
intended to prevent, and make it easier for these athletes to stay in college
and be students.



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