Thursday, May 17, 2018

Same as it ever was

Now that the US Supreme Court has declared the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional and paved the way for legalized sports wagering across the country, yet more folks will make money at the expense of college athletes.

I'm not going to rehash the holding of the court because that heavy lifting has already been done. My focus is, instead, on the continued exploitation of college athletes under the guise of amateurism. This quaint notion goes back to 19th century England. The upper class decided their children were too soft from generations of sloth and so they encouraged their children to take up sports. In order to protect their precious snowflakes from the dirty masses, they came up with the idea of amateurism - a concept that allowed those who had the means not to have to work, to compete in athletic competitions with other like-minded souls. This notion extended to the relatively new sport of college football.

Before World War II, college was largely restricted to the children of the wealthy. That began to change after the war with the GI Bill which made college affordable for those who had served in the military. In the 60's - and into the 70's - colleges in the south were finally integrating both their student bodies and their athletic teams. The awarding of athletic scholarships suddenly made a college education for poor and black families.

All of this was well and good while college football remained a regional sport. When I grew up in the 70's and 80's, you were lucky to get three or four college games a Saturday. You would get a nationally televised game on ABC (and mayble a regional one, too). You might get a Notre Dame game and, if you were lucky, a syndicated game of the week. Let's just say the money wasn't exactly rolling into the coffers in those days.

In the 80's many colleges filed suit against the NCAA arguing that its television policies were hurting its members. The schools - and conferences - won the right to negotiate their own television contracts. You also had the birth of ESPN - and ESPN needed programming to fill its schedule.

Suddenly there was an explosion of television money in college sports.We went from a couple of live games a week to somewhere between one and two dozen games every Saturday. Networks paid increasing amounts of money for the rights to broadcast those games and the schools began making money.

Then there was the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. It began marketing itself as March Madness. The field expanded from 32 to 48 to 64 to 68 teams. CBS and Turner pay billions of dollars to televise the games.

Coaches were the first to reap the rewards of television money. Network and advertising executives took their cut. Video game makers created games and made millions off of college athletics. Sporting apparel companies made money selling jerseys and shirts. But the players saw none of it.

Now with sports betting legalized, sports books, casinos and racetracks across the country are gearing up to meet the expected demand. They are all ready to get their cut out of legal betting on college football and basketball games. The NCAA is talking about charging firms who take bets on college sports a fee to pay for increased monitoring of the sport.

But no one is talking about the players getting a piece of the pie. Gaming executives will get theirs. State treasuries will get theirs. Networks and ad agencies will get theirs. The NCAA will get theirs.

Yet once again the athletes will serve as nothing more than the vessel for money passing from one hand to another. Life down on the plantation will continue same as it ever was.


Mark said...

Sorry, but the last time I looked agreeing to play college sports was still voluntary. And I disagree with the statement that the athletes are not getting theirs. A four year scholarship to most universities is worth tens of thousands of dollars which includes free housing and health care while under scholarship. Again, no one is forced to play college ball. If an athlete signs on the bottom line he is agreeing to the terms.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Colleges choose to hand out athletic scholarships just as they decide to hand out academic scholarships. The recipient of an academic scholarship isn't prohibited from getting paid.

Coaches get paid. College officials get paid. NCAA officials get paid. Broadcasters get paid. Now gambling execs are going to get paid more. Everyone has their hand out and everyone is reaping the benefits brought in by college athletes. The athletes deserve their piece of the pie.

If the majority of college football and basketball players were white middle class kids from the suburbs, we wouldn't even be having this debate. They would already be getting paid.

The opposition to paying college athletes is tied very closely with the notion that college is for white kids from the suburbs, not for black and brown kids from the city.