"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Paid College Athletics

So here's a story at Inside Higher Ed on track athletes who are turning professional and eschewing a college career. I'm not so interested in the fact that track athletes are doing what others (especially baseball, hockey, and basketball players) have been doing for years, but it does pose an interesting question. (And that question is not about students taking the money and leaving college early - most everyone, I would assume, would skip their last couple of years in college for a seven-figure salary). The NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving goods that they wouldn't otherwise receive except that they are athletes. So the local car dealer can't spot you a new Corolla because you're the third-string punter. But to be equitable, shouldn't we extend that to all students? Shouldn't the computer science major be barred from making money on the side working for some start-up? Or the journalism major be prohibited from taking that part-time job with a newspaper? There's a difference, of course. The "regular" students are, in some sense, merely getting a head start on their careers (and probably learning more about their profession than they do in the classroom) while whatever sorts of benefits might come the punter's way are probably just a way of enticing him to join the team. But I've never quite understood the case for barring benefits to student-athletes: why shouldn't they be able to trade on their skills as they see fit? (As a side note, it would as well help ease the corruption that currently infects big-time college athletics. While direct payments are probably relatively rare, I'd bet that there are lots of places in the country where students live in housing at, er, "reduced" rates, drive much nicer cars than they should be able to afford, have relatives with very lucrative jobs, etc. And what's more, the strict rules against providing anything to athletes means that when an athlete actually does need help - say, to get home for Thanksgiving - if you play by the rules, there's little you can do). Let the punter get his Corolla, I say.

11 comments:

Platypus said...

The other difference between your two examples is that the CS or journalism student is capitalizing on their academic credentials, whereas the "student athlete" is capitalizing on an extra-curricular activity. I'm not sure if the difference matters, but it is a difference.

Hunter Baker said...

What we probably need is a picture of the situation pre-regulation. My guess is that the current rules were inspired by some very bad situations. Purely a guess, but that's often how these sorts of regulatory schemes arise.

Now, that doesn't mean the rules made are the best ones . . .

Michael Simpson said...

We might ask more directly about whose interests are served by the regulations? The athletes? Not clear that it does.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...
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The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

There is a large disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

Of course the haves are universities that can afford to pay athletes and the have-nots are those who cannot.

Thus, in a system where paymets are not allowed, the have-nots are served.

The athlete freely chooses to enter into a contract with the university, thus I find it hard to say that his/her interests are NOT served ... I can be persuaded, however.

James Elliott said...

“The "regular" students are, in some sense, merely getting a head start on their careers (and probably learning more about their profession than they do in the classroom) while whatever sorts of benefits might come the punter's way are probably just a way of enticing him to join the team.”

I’d say that you’ve hit upon a pretty crucial difference. The comp sci major is applying skills learned in the classroom or on his own to earn money. The athlete is, in effect, receiving an in-kind donation by virtue of belonging to the Local Sports Team. One might argue that by having a skill - kicking a ball far and accurately - that is in demand, he’s “earning” the deal, but I’d disagree. He is not performing a service for that car. It’s essentially a bribe. Some might say there’s no difference between that and offering to buy your kid a car if they make straight A’s all year. I disagree, but in the end it revolves around sticky, nebulous ethical concerns.

S. T. Karnick said...

CLA says, "The athlete freely chooses to enter into a contract with the university, thus I find it hard to say that his/her interests are NOT served ... I can be persuaded, however." But this contract is clearly not free. There are athletes who would like to be paid in addition to their scholarships (in fact, nearly all of them would take the dough, I should think), and schools that would like to pay them, but they are not allowed to. This is not strictly a legal issue, as far as I know, in that the NCAA is an organization voluntarily entered into. But it is not true that athletes are free to seek out whatever compensation colleges believe they're worth. And that, in my view, is wrong. The schools should be allowed to pay athletes what they're worth. There could be much debate among the chattering classes over what the numbers should be, but the market would determine the correct prices quite efficiently.

James Elliott said...

"But it is not true that athletes are free to seek out whatever compensation colleges believe they're worth. And that, in my view, is wrong. The schools should be allowed to pay athletes what they're worth."

Most colleges offer athletes perks, such as early registration for classes in order to conform their schedule to practices and games and in the form of scholarships. Athletes at many schools, like UCLA, are often given special tutors and academic considerations - even to the point of being held to less stringent standards than their classmates - in order to keep them in the athletics program. Isn't this a form of compensation? After all, someone who gets a degree from UCLA, even though they're dumb as a box of rocks, because they were an asset to the football team has arguably been rewarded with quite a bankable asset from a prestigious school.

S. T. Karnick said...

James Elliott wrote, "someone who gets a degree from UCLA, even though they're dumb as a box of rocks, because they were an asset to the football team has arguably been rewarded with quite a bankable asset from a prestigious school." That doesn't answer the point that players would like to get paid and schools would like to pay them. The "valuable" college degree and tutoring, etc. are obviously insufficient compensation for an athlete helping to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of income per year to the school. (And yes, I know many teams are subsidized by schools, but that's their choice, freely made.) Plus, the degree is of no value at all if the player is at the bottom of the heap intellectually: job performance at the requisite level to take advantage of having a degree will be impossible for such a person. That is why both student athletes and schools would agree to payment if allowed. If they didn't both want that, the NCAA wouldn't have to have a rule against it. For the very top atheletic achievers, giving them a degree is poor compensation for the amount of money they bring in.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

...players would like to get paid and schools would like to pay them...

ST ... you have convinced me; the second half of your comment is the clincher.

The situation is similar to what occurs with minimum wage laws.

James Elliott said...

"That is why both student athletes and schools would agree to payment if allowed."

I suppose there is an argument, similar to that of the university providing work-study jobs, hiring students for IT or campus newspapers, that sort of thing. I hadn't thought of it that way.

I'm not terribly invested in the whole idea, though I'd be pretty pissed off if my tuition dollars went to pay some person to play something he or she can just as easily join an intramural league for if he or she truly enjoys it.