Has Johnny Manziel Made You Question the Myth of Amateurism?

In 2011, I penned an article begging the NCAA to pay college athletes. My thesis was simple: under the current set of rules, many athletes were being exploited by the NCAA and its system. Therefore, the NCAA should pay its college athletes more in order to stop the unfair exploitation of 19 and 20 year-old kids.

Johnny ManzielThe problem with this argument is simple: The vast majority of athletes aren’t being exploited, and in all actuality, they are receiving more than fair compensation. While I don’t necessarily believe this justifies the current system, the conversation has begun to slowly change as more and more of Johnny Manziel’s latest “antics” surface.

A week ago, Jay Bilas cast a spotlight on one of the utmost examples of NCAA hypocrisy, the sales of specific player jerseys. For the first time that I remember, the overwhelming response to his tweets were no longer apologetic for the NCAA’s system, but were strongly in agreement that the NCAA was in fact doing something corrupt.

The cynical part of me wonders whether the opinion is changing because for one of the first times, a good-looking, wealthy, white quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy last year is under scrutiny. After all, visionaries like Jay Bilas and Jason Whitlock have been pounding the NCAA and its “shamateurism” for years. I don’t remember an outpouring of support for Terrelle Pryor, Reggie Bush, or A.J. Green when they accepted cash and other methods of payment for their celebrity status.

As unfortunate as the past hypocrisy is, perhaps it’s finally the time for change. Let’s examine the common objection that the status quo currently makes in favor of college amateurism. An objective look at the facts should once again lead us down a trail of logic that points out the hypocrisy and moves us forward to a place where all men and women are treated more equitably.

“The Athletes ARE getting paid – they are getting a free education!”

Please notice the simplest version of hypocrisy that immediately jumps off the page. If a person claims that “student athletes” should not get paid to play college sports, then that same person must also be against athletic scholarships – period. If paying kids to play sports in college is such an unethical idea, why should the students make any money at all?

If an individual truly believes that, then he has to be completely against college sports in their.

Of course, few people outside of the idealists that hate big business in general truly feel this way. The argument then must change from “Should student-athletes get paid?” to “How much should student-athletes get paid?” Or, better yet, “Why should athletes get paid more today than before?”

Those arguing that student-athletes should receive nothing more than a free college education are in essence arguing that today’s student-athletes don’t deserve to be compensated any more than collegians did in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The problem is that comparing today’s NCAA with what took place in the 1960s is simply ludicrous. As Jason Whitlock once said, amateurism was OK when the greatest coach of all-time, John Wooden, was making $35,000 a year. Today, it’s too preposterous to think that John Calipari, Roy Williams, Nick Saban, and Steve Spurrier are really coaching in anything other than a professional environment.

Last season, the average pay for an NCAA Tournament coach was $1.47 million. BCS Football coaches raked in $1.55 million. Every year, the NCAA makes billions of dollars off of video games which are filled with the likenesses and attributes of countless players. College sports couldn’t possibly be less of an amateur venture if it tried.

More importantly though, since when has America ever advocated that employees should only be allowed to make a certain amount of money? (Please notice I used the word “employee” because that is most definitely what student-athletes are. “Student-athletes” often dedicate 20 hours or more a week to honing their craft on the football field, basketball court, or baseball diamond. In return, the University pays for some or all of their tuition. That sounds like a job to me.)

In fact, the NCAA used to call all of its “student-athletes” employees until 1953 when a judge ruled that since an athlete was an employee, the school had to pay for his injury with worker’s compensation. Immediately, the NCAA created the term “student-athlete” and required its exclusive by all of its members. You read that correctly – in 1953, the NCAA created a bogus term in order to avoid paying medical bills for its injured emp- (excuse me) “student athletes.”

If the previous paragraph sends you into a rage, then you won’t want to read about the fallout from what happened to Edward Gary Van Horn. Van Horn died in a plane accident on a football trip and the school was required to pay his family’s death benefits. You won’t believe how far the NCAA went to make sure something that awful (not the plane crash, but the reimbursement to a human’s family) would never happen again.

America is based on many values, one of them being capitalism. The beauty of capitalism is that theoretically, workers are paid what they are worth to the company. If a worker feels he is being compensated unfairly, he is free to leave and go receive his just payment elsewhere. The very idea that if a worker is being paid, he shouldn’t be allowed to ask for more money is at its core an un-American idea.

The unfairness doesn’t stop there. The NCAA seemingly goes out of its way to ensure that no athletes anywhere receive benefits other than the supposed education that is being provided to them at school. Thousands of NCAA workers travel the country on an annual basis, enforcing rules and bringing down the fist of amateurism. Bear in mind:

  • If Taylor Swift enrolled today at the University of Tennessee, she would be allowed to sell her songs on iTunes, perform concerts on campus, and pursue a degree in music. However, if she was on the school wrestling team, she wouldn’t be allowed to do any of that without losing her scholarship.
  • While Emma Watson was at Brown University, she was able to continue filming movies and earning as much money as she possibly could. However, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was not allowed to start his acting career until after he had finished his college career. After all, wouldn’t it have been possible that he only received the role because of who he was on the football field?
  • Hundreds of thousands of collegians every year get non-athletic scholarships. If these students want to create Facebook, launch clothing brands, or invent lucrative apps, they are more than free to do so while continuing their college education. However, if Anthony Davis wanted to sell a million shirts advertising, “Fear the Brow!” then he would have lost his scholarship.
  • If the University of Georgia wants to sell a bright, red No. 8 jersey for $400 on its website, it is more than free to profit. However, when A.J. Green sold the same jersey, he was suspended for almost half the season.

Remember, colleges across the country didn’t get together one day and decide to, out of the goodness of their hearts, give away millions of dollars to poor kids across the nation in order for them to receive a college education. Colleges are a business, and if they weren’t receiving an incredible return on their investment of scholarships, they wouldn’t hand them out so freely.

There are countless institutions across the nation that don’t hand out athletic scholarships for that very purpose. Division I schools are benefiting greatly.

Even if a school’s athletic budget winds up in the red, it is impossible to measure the impact a good sports program has on the school in general. Look at the enrollment at Butler and Florida Gulf Coast after their fabulous NCAA tournament runs. Students choose Ohio State over Cleveland State every year because of the quality of the sports teams and the more well-rounded college experience that atmosphere can provide.

The final nail in the coffin is simple. The majority of NCAA athletes are prohibited from making money during the time of their life when their money-earning potential may have been at its peak.

For every professional superstar, there are 100 Tyler Hansbroughs, Troy Smiths, Doug McDermotts, and Tim Tebows. All of those players were celebrated celebrities while in college that we assumed would never be much if anything at the next level. How much money did ESPN, the NCAA, and UNC make off of Tyler Hansbrough while he was a Tar Heel? Was there a bigger star in college sports history than Tim Tebow? What would be so unethical about a guy receiving payment for the unbelievable value that he is adding, not just to his team or school, but to the sport and the NCAA in general?

Next year, the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit will finally be heard. The NCAA will finally have to answer for itself and why it has been allowed to profit off of Bill Russell, Oscar Robinson, Pete Maravich, and other men for the past 60 years.

Don’t fall for the “okie doke” about college sports. There’s nothing “fair” about the current system.



About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

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