EDITORIAL: Should college athletes get paid?

MCT REGIONAL NEWSThe Charleston Gazette, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Information ServicesSept. 21--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former West Virginia newsman Fred Grimm, now at the Miami Herald, says billion-dollar college football and basketball are "enterprises gone mad with TV contracts and multi-million-dollar coaches" who earn vastly more than the world's best professors. He noted that the University of Michigan just signed "a $66.5 million agreement granting Adidas sole right to garb the school's athletes" and "the NCAA last year signed a 14-year, $11 billion TV contract just to televise the basketball tournament."In a major Atlantic magazine report, civil rights historian Taylor Branch contends that big-money sports universities should stop pretending that athletes are students, and should pay them cash.Universities and the National Collegiate Athletic Association rake in billions from exuberant fans and TV contracts, Branch wrote in an essay titled "The Shame of College Sports" -- and it's unfair to base this financial empire on the bone-crushing sacrifice of players who get none of the proceeds."The United States is the only country in the world that hosts big-time sports at institutions of higher learning," he wrote. Ever since the U.S. system began a century ago, schools have been caught repeatedly slipping money to star players to induce them to attend -- and also faking grades so their academic incompetence show."Big-time college sports are fully commercialized," Branch wrote. "Billions of dollars flow through them each year. The NCAA makes money, and enables universities and corporations to make money, from the unpaid labor of athletes. ..."The average compensation for head football coaches at public universities, now more than $2 million, has grown 750 percent 1/8since 19843/8. That's more than 20 times the cumulative 32 percent raise for college professors. For top basketball coaches, annual contracts now exceed $4 million, augmented by assorted bonuses, endorsements, country club memberships, the occasional private plane, and in some cases a negotiated percentage of ticket receipts."Growth of televised games spurred the bonanza. In 1984, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling let top football universities pursue TV contracts on their own, so the NCAA was left mostly with March Madness basketball.
"Last year, CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting paid $771 million to the NCAA for television rights to the 2011 men's basketball tournament alone," he continued. "That's three-quarters of a billion dollars built on the backs of amateurs -- on unpaid labor. The whole edifice depends on the players' willingness to perform what is effectively volunteer work."He quoted retired Louisiana State University basketball coach Dale Brown: "Look at the money we make off predominantly poor black kids. We're the whoremasters."Branch said the NCAA once was terrified by rumors that players of a major team planned to strike during March Madness. "It was unnerving to contemplate what hung on the consent of a few young volunteers: several hundred million dollars in television revenue, countless livelihoods, the NCAA budget, and subsidies for sports at more than 1,000 schools." The crisis passed when the team lost earlys.By keeping athletes in the status of amateurs, the historian wrote, universities escape responsibility for those who are crippled or paralyzed by game injuries. Branch said:"Two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence -- 'amateurism' and the 'student-athlete' -- are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes."
We don't know whether universities should end the charade and switch to hired teams. But at least Branch has raised an issue that should cause major debate in academia.___(c)2011 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)Visit The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.wvgazette.comDistributed by MCT Information Services
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