Sport fans who value honesty view the phrase “student athlete” with, at best, humor. Perhaps scorn is a better adjective because a fan who follows college, and even some high school sports, knows that the influence of money, not scholarship or enjoyment, rule. Two recent news articles support my opinion.
According to the Associated Press, the Power Five conferences spent a combined $350,000 to lobby Congress during the first three months of 2020. The biggest spender, the SEC, spent $140,000 with three lobbying firms. Every Power Five school hired the same two firms that state as their objective a “national solution to preserve the unique model of American college athletics” while allowing players to earn money through their names, images, and such [NIL]. According to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, It’s “important for the SEC to have a voice in this national dialogue” concerning compensation for its student athletes. If the reader worries, ACC Commissioner John Swofford offered this rationale for the combined effort: “In this particular case, the [Power Five] conferences are working together on this so that there’s less confusion, not more, in terms of the messaging to congressional leaders that helps explain NIL and what the concerns are, and how it might work.” One of the core principles of the Power Five for athlete compensation include a requirement for “one term of academic progress” before he or she can sign any endorsement deal and “a ban on athlete deals with ‘advertising categories inconsistent with higher education.’” These words support the colleges “investment”, not the student-athletes interest. Just one “core” of the Power Five demonstrates the shame of this entire mess: “one term of academic progress” is as hollow as a rotten log.
Zion Williamson entered Duke in the fall of 2019. He was named the student athlete for the year by the ACC Conference and was the number one pick in the 2020 NBA draft and now plays for New Orleans. He is now again in the news because he signed a contract in April 2019 with a sports agent, but his attorney has asked a federal judge to void that contract. At the center of this muddle sits about $100 million.
Now, forget all the accusations from both sides concerning trips, gifts to parents and coaches, and all the other important details. Instead, ponder this possibility: A 19-year-old goes to college to play basketball for a year, tuning up for the NBA; For the first semester at his or her college he or she attends enough classes to garner enough academic credits (9-12?) to be eligible for the second semester; He or she plays well on a nationally recognized team and in the spring of the second semester is offered a contract by an agent. Another example of a young person being used by a system way over his or her head, and the head of his or her parents. Yes, big money is involved, but look at the price paid.
Just the fact that the Power Five conferences now lobby Congress shows the hypocrisy of the phrase “student athlete.” Let’s cut to the cold, hard truth: Some college sport programs are now big business and its employees must be fairly compensated. Perhaps the Power Five will leave the NCAA and form a corporation where they will be free to make all the money they can while getting out of the “student” part of secondary education.