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NCAA Football And Basketball Are Absolutely Exploiting Athletes, But So Are Fans


The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in an antitrust case over the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s refusal to fairly compensate athletes forced through collegiate competition before they can go pro. SCOTUSblog summarizes:

The case before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, NCAA v. Alston, began as a class action filed in 2014 by Division I football and basketball players against the NCAA. The lawsuit argued that the NCAA’s restrictions on eligibility and compensation violate federal antitrust laws because the restrictions prevent college athletes from receiving fair-market compensation for their labor.

The NCAA argues that college sports are by nature supposed to be amateur endeavors, which is what distinguishes them from pro sports. At this point, however, for men’s basketball and football this is a distinction without a difference. The NCAA is trying to stretch the state of play in other sports like swimming and golf to cover the obviously pro-level play of men’s Division 1 basketball and football. It’s not only a stretch, it’s a flat-out sham.

Players in those two sports spend more time on athletics than they do on academics, by a long shot, well more than 40 hours a week. Many players never earn college degrees from the schools they play for, and the degrees granted to many more are unearned frauds, as numerous scandals have uncovered. In 2017, college football or basketball coaches were the highest-paid public employees in 39 states, with 34 earning more than $2 million a year. Television contracts for distributing these games are worth billions of dollars.

“Justice Samuel Alito suggested that the circumstances of major-college athletics ‘paint a pretty stark picture’ in which powerhouse programs bring in billions of dollars and pay enormous salaries to coaches, but the athletes themselves put in long hours of training, at significant cost to their studies, resulting in ‘shockingly low’ graduation rates,” reported SCOTUS blogger Amy Howe of oral arguments in the case. “The athletes, Alito concluded, are ‘recruited, they’re used up, and then they’re cast aside.'”

Howe reports Justice Brett Kavanaugh “summarized the case as one in which the schools were conspiring with their competitors ‘to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars on the theory that consumers want the schools to pay their workers nothing.’”

It’s obvious why the NCAA wants to keep things this way. Collegiate men’s football and basketball are multi-billion-dollar tax-exempt organizations that make gobs of money for all the adults involved through the unfairly compensated labor of the kids they refuse to pay.

NCAA football and basketball’s little arrangement with tax-exempt higher education institutions allows both institutions to make out like bandits. Their collusion enables both to avoid income taxes and paying athletes, all while producing gobs of money for themselves. Sweet deal, if you can get it.

That’s why the NCAA is desperate to remain connected to colleges. If Alabama football is spun off as the purely for-profit enterprise it clearly is, it would have to pay all the players, pay the taxes on their salaries, and then pay the taxes on all the profits generated by the programs. There are billions of dollars at stake. That’s the only principle the NCAA and its member schools care about.

All this money is why they are spinning fake yarns to the Supreme Court, like the ludicrous idea that paying these athletes room, board, and sometimes a college degree is fair compensation for these students’ insanely profitable abilities. This is not fair to top men’s basketball and football players, who also because of the NCAA chokepoint on their sports have nearly no other ways to move from high school to pro or Olympic-level play, unlike sports such as baseball, which have non-collegiate minor league alternative development opportunities.

The athletes in sports besides football and basketball don’t make their schools any real money and won’t be able to make a living as professionals in their sports, so trading their physical abilities for a college degree is a good deal for them. They truly are amateurs and hobbyists. But Division 1 men’s basketball and football players are not. Men’s basketball and men’s football are the outliers, and they’re going to end up destroying the entire system for everyone else.

That would obviously have lots of hurtful effects, but it could also have some helpful ones. Sports long ago moved from a complement to the educational enterprise at all levels to a frequent distraction, including in K-12. Numerous public high schools are essentially taxpayer-funded sports entertainment enterprises where education is at best an afterthought. That’s not only not fair to these younger students, it’s not fair to taxpayers.

Exercise and competition can be great things for human beings, in proper proportion. But it makes no sense for taxpayers to be forced to subsidize feeder-style sports that start in peewee leagues and essentially comprise an obsession for families and their communities. That is a private enjoyment and as such it should be financed and pursued privately, instead of piggybacked onto taxpayer-provided “education.” Go ahead and enjoy sports on your own time and dime, but taxpayers shouldn’t be shanghaied into subsidizing your hobbies and obsessions, just like we shouldn’t be shanghaied into funding gardeners or video game leagues or any other form of entertainment.

Sports enterprises at all levels distort and distract from the education enterprises from which they have spawned naked schemes to divert public dollars to personal enrichment and enjoyment. The NCAA’s tax-exempt sports profiteering may be the guiltiest of this scam, but that doesn’t make them the only ones running it. Just like their smaller grifting copycats, they have no genuine connection to genuine education. They’re just idols.

The NCAA’s version of this idolatry exploits human beings, just like the parent who pushes his or her kids into sports at the expense of more important pursuits is exploiting those kids as well. Schools also exploit student-athletes, in many ways other than consuming their childhoods and best interests to feed adult desires. Many will justify making sports kids’ part-time job as a way to get college scholarships, for example, when the truth is that about 2 percent of high school athletes get a scholarship out of it.

Thus, much of the sports-industrial complex today is exploitation, not just the NCAA. Sports should be about what’s best for the individual and his community — getting healthy, learning to move your body and work with others in sometimes complicated ways, being your best, winning and losing with a smile, and all-around character and personal development. Sports should add to one’s life, not take it over.

The same goes for viewers. The fact that college basketball is so ridiculously lucrative is itself proof that viewers are willing to ignore that their entertainment depends on exploiting those they claim to worship. Using current jargon, one might surmise that the NCAA’s exploitation seems somewhat systemic. Yet millions of people are helping bolster the NCAA’s huge financial incentive to keep those players chained.