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College sports discussion.

Is Amateurism the Only way?

Matt Gutridge's picture
June 24, 2014 at 11:47am

Kyle Rowland's piece Delany Testimony Full of Holes was quite the conversation starter yesterday. At this time many people are in one of two camps on this topic:

NCAA, Keeping Their Options Open?

1) Keep the system how it is. The players are getting paid by getting a free education, room and board etc.

2) The players should get paid by the universities or at least get compensated through their likeness.

Below is the description of a third option.


Excerpts from a Todd Jones article written for The Columbus Dispatch on June 3 (Full Article). Option 3 (Bold is my commentary):

Dr. David Ridpath

The search for answers regarding the future of big-money college athletics is causing one critic to head overseas.

Dr. David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University, leaves today for Germany, where he’ll spend the next year studying the European sports system and how it differs from a college model unique to the U.S.  ...

I understand that most of us don't want to follow a European model, but Ridpath has some valid questions.

“Why do we have athletics attached to the educational system in America, specifically at colleges and universities?” said Ridpath, a former Ohio assistant wrestling coach. “The European club system is actually a great developmental system for their professional leagues and Olympics.

“With the inevitable changes that are coming to college athletics, is there another potential way to have developmental athletics in America that either complements some of the intercollegiate athletic system or takes it over completely?”

Show me the money.

The past decade has seen Ridpath rise among the ranks of critics of the NCAA, a tax-free nonprofit organization that reported a nearly $61 million surplus for its 2013 fiscal year. ...

College athletics is at a crossroads at a time when a contract to broadcast the new College Football Playoff reportedly is worth $7.3 billion over 12 years and an NCAA basketball tournament TV deal is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.

How is it done overseas?

Such deals don’t exist in Europe, where athletic scholarships are rare and professional sports clubs, not universities, are viewed as the proper outlet for the talented athletes of college age.

“Higher education in the United States is the only (educational) system in the world that has assumed the responsibility of entertaining the public,” said Richard Davies, who has written books and taught classes about American sports history at the University of Nevada.

Davies, a Camden, Ohio, native, said that the American system sprang from the rise of college football in the late 1800s when “Europeans had their club sports already established outside the university.”

Why is our system this way?

College Football Circa the 1920s

With the American higher-education system in its infancy, commerce took quick root when huge crowds at football games caught the attention of school presidents.

“By 1900, the universities had taken over the sport,” Davies said. “It became a very important public-relations tool. It was the one way that universities could reach out to their alumni and get them to connect with the university after they had graduated, and, of course, to raise money through the alumni.”

The Roaring ’20s saw a national rise in the construction of huge college football stadiums such as Ohio Stadium, which opened on Ohio State’s campus in 1922.

Ridpath's final thought.

“My views have evolved,” Ridpath said. “I wasn’t going to consider anything else other than the complete academic model. Now I’m wide open to anything, as long as we’re not doing what we’re doing now.”

I'm not educated enough on this topic, but I'm afraid that I agree with Ridpath in that the current model for college athletics will not last. I don't see any major changes happening within the next ten years, but I do believe in 30 years we may not recognize how college athletics are operated.

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Matt Gutridge's picture

I'm not sure where I fall on this topic. I love watching college sports and am living in a time when I can watch 15 college football games on any Saturday throughout the football season. I don't want to rock the boat and end this gift. However, it is very difficult to defend the current system when BILLIONS OF DOLLARS are being made off of amateurs.

It took 25+ years, but college football now has a playoff. I see a similar timeline for this situation. Hopefully a solution that is a win for everybody.

YTOWNBUCKI's picture

Good post and definitely a refreshing new take on the situation.  Thanks, Remy. 


CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

+3 HS
Buckeye Knight's picture

I don't know what the answer is, it really is a complex situation.  I just hope that whatever comes of it, we have a system where the rules are applied evenly, which is NOT the case now.

I like the fact that the athletes are amateurs and respect that to a certain degree.  But there also feels something very wrong about disciplining a kid and an entire program for signing his own name for a little money or bartering.  There must be a middle ground somewhere.

+4 HS
AndyVance's picture

Some unintended consequences of decoupling athletics from universities:

  • A significant number of students who would not otherwise earn a college degree will not obtain that education;
  • Large research universities that benefits significantly from the financial contributions of fans who become supporters, or from direct athletic contributions to academia (consider the William Oxley Thompson Library on our very own campus, for starters);
  • Athletic donations become academic donations when those scholarship dollars move from the athletic fund into tuition, room, board, etc.
  • The loss of a valuable public relations/community building aspect of having a successful athletic program - consider the number of folks on this site who are not technically alumni, but who are huge supporters of Ohio State despite having never attended a class.

These are but a few such examples. As Buckeye Knight pointed out above, it is a complex situation, and it is clear that something is happening, or will happen, that changes things as we know them in some way yet to be determined. The complete ouster of the amateur model as we know it is not the right answer, at least in my view.

Buckeye Knight's picture

I've also thought that one way to run it (at least the money making teams) is to have basically a minor league system separate from the university and for profit.  Then each team pays a % of the profits or revenue to the school each year for the right to continue to use the school's name and mascot.

Some problems that arise, though, are... would the top 20 teams or so continue to stay profitable in a league where they all play each other and the use of facilities?  Someone HAS to be a bottom feeder if say, OSU, Bama, USC, Texas, etc. start playing each other year in and year out.  Would the teams that become bottom feeders still turn a profit after so many years?  And there are MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars worth of facilities that these teams use that are owned by the university.  Would the teams have to rent these out from the universities?  There would not be enough money at start up to buy them.

THEOSUfan's picture

Here is the general solution, but without too many details, because, well, then my solution will get picked apart.

The NCAA is committed to the STUDENT-athlete model.  OK.  Let's treat football and basketball players like, say, an engineering student who comes up with a better light bulb.  That engineering student can patent, market, and profit from their ideas, work, and creativity without any penalty or someone accusing them of being something more than an engineering student, losing their scholarships, or their eligibility as a student.

Athletes who have a demand for their presence, autograph, etc. should be allowed to leverage that demand to their benefit. Earnings are escrowed and monitored by the athletic departments, and are dispursed when the athlete leaves school.  A fee is paid to the school for the monitoring and the costs of escrowing, and because they provided the venue for the athlete to become known.

If you are Braxton Miller, and someone will pay you $1000 to make an appearance or $20 to sign an item, then that's fine.  If you are the 4th seat on the women's rowing team, and no one knows who you are, and there is no demand for you, then you enjoy your scholarship and free education.  If you are a rowing superstar, and in high demand, then you have the exact same opportunity as Braxton Miller = no Title XI violations.

The free market and individual rights will provide the answers every time we allow them to.

+1 HS
GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

I like your points, but you have to factor in the corruption part. Don't forget that the boosters are a big part of the problem in regards to compensation. They would control what recruits we draw attention from, who we talk into returning for their senior season etc. There has to be some sort of structure to this model. I'm not saying I don't agree with you to an extent. If they are being paid more than other teammates aren't they pretty much professionals then?

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

THEOSUfan's picture

The corruption factor is like gravity - it's always there.  It doesn't matter what system you have, someone without integrity is always going to find a way to work it to their advantage.  Right now we have the NCAA telling Braxton Miller that he doesn't own his own likeness and fame, and that he cannot sell his own personal property.  That just violates every foundational American tenet.  Even worse, it creates "corruption" when a kid sells his own stuff in exchange for something he can't afford - let's say a tattoo.  Oh my good Lord, the sky is falling and college athletics is going to hell!  Have the state police put up a roadblock and call in the FBI.  Horrible crimes are being committed!  It is ridiculous on its face.

Boosters will be a problem no matter what system you have in place.  I cannot think of a scenario where you could eliminate the $100 handshake.  It has happened forever, and it will continue to happen.

I didn't provide a detailed structure because that's where the devil resides.  Honestly, I don't have a detailed structure to offer.  What I do have is a set of foundational principles that you build a structure on: 1) You own yourself   2) You can sell what you own.  3) Everyone can work to put themselves in the position of being marketable.  You can profit in proportion to your marketability.  That's fair in terms of the free market, and in light of Title XI. 4) Money is not a primary motivation for playing college athletics.  You build a structure around that - you will still have more or less corruption than you do now, but at least you aren't treating student-athletes like they are the slaves of the NCAA, violating basic American tenets, and stomping on basic human rights.

And no, they wouldn't be pros if they earn $50, 000 over 3 to 5 years, and they collect 80% of that money after they leave school.  Pros earn multi million dollar signing bonuses, and then get paid 6 figures or more per game - which they collect immediately.   There's no comparison.  Taking your analogy further, since Tom Brady earns 8 figures, and the backup guard earns 6, does that mean Brady is a pro and the guard isn't?

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

This is just my opinion, I feel like each player should be paid between 15-20k a year. They can't have real jobs like actual paying students do, so fairly compensate them. My fear with letting each kid make their own money, is that college football will become a similar to the NFL, which most purists of the sport do not want. Boosters will dissolve the game and you will end up with about 10-20 schools that turn college football into a monopoly. Sure, we are one of those 20 or so schools, but do you really want to watch the same few teams be the only ones competing? I love when an underdog pulls the rug out from beneath the system. Boise State beating Oklahoma, Appy State in Ann Arbor etc. Those games are what ,separate college football from the NFL. I truly believe that allowing players to make "their money" is you will have boosters buying off recruiting.

So remove competitive recruiting amongst the top 50 or so programs from the major 5 conferences. Recruiting in my opinion is more fun than paying attention to NFL free agency. Recruiting is year around, and is territorial pride. Not money based.

Eliminate the coaching development from so many coaches that have made their way up the ranks to prove themselves. Urban Meyer at B.G., this list is too long to make. Less exposure and less competitive teams means less parody...which is what separates college football from the pros.

I know I don't make the strongest points here, but I feel letting these guys make their own endorsement money will dissolve what we love. You will end up with certain kids who feel they are above their teams (NFL), opposed to playing and developing within a structured system. I don't have the answers for all of this. The closest I can come is like I mentioned above. Pay each player the same base pay of lets say 20k. No more complaining of going hungry or being flat broke. Doing this I think would preserve college football as we know it and help the players. I think with the billions of dollars the sport generates, paying every scholarship player 20k a year would suffice without killing the bottom line.


Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

Matt Gutridge's picture

Most important, what would Nick Bosa do?

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

"Did I ever tell you about the time Nick Bosa sold me into slavery? He puts me on a ship to Thailand, right? And I'm chained to a pipe. Meanwhile, ol' Bosa, he's back in the States siring three beautiful children with my wife!"

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

+2 HS
SonOfBuckeye's picture

Get universities (particularly public schools) out of the semi-pro sports entertainment industry.  Full stop.  That means no athletic scholarships.  Field teams exclusively of students who happen to be athletes.  The current system is unfixably corrupt.

THEOSUfan's picture

And then you will have Joe Intramural and his buddies donning the Scarlet and Grey and 17 people will cram into a stadium built to hold 104,000.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  The reality is that football and basketball is a massive business.  As you note, those sports function as the minor leagues and are semi-proish, but that's not changing because there is too much money to be made.