Changing the NCAA: Let the athletes decide

Editor’s Note: Sports MBA students, past and current, will examine the structure of the NCAA and suggest improvements in this space over the course of the next few weeks.

The Issues:

Johnny Football. Or as his high school teachers calls him: Johnathan. The last year for the once unknown QB from Hollytree, Texas, has been a roller coaster for all involved. He has encapsulated the entire nation with his play on the field and brought out the true colors of the NCAA off of it. Johnathan claims he is just a regular kid wanting a regular college life. Too bad his play turned him into a rock star having casual conversations with rappers and celebrities. YOLO.

Jackson Turner* ran track for Northeastern University in Boston and as the NCAA likes to say, “will be going pro in something other than sports.” He receives the same compensation for his services as Johnny Football, a college degree, housing, a generous meal plan, access to the school’s unlimited resources. Not to mention a pretty sweet apartment looking into Fenway Park. All for sacrificing his body on the track. Jackson doesn’t casually sit front row at Miami Heat games or chat it up with multi-million dollar rappers. Sure, he’ll attend a Red Sox game in the bleachers and the only interaction he’ll have with celebrities is in the throes of rock concert. He might feel like a rock star at his university but will be thrown into the real world soon enough. Big man on a small campus quickly turns into a little man in a big world. *name changed for privacy

Over the past few years, the NCAA has been in the center of many controversies. The butter and cream cheese scandal at UConn to the rings for tattoo program at the Ohio State University to Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro at the U to name a few. Now they are dealing with Johnny Hancock-gate. Each of these cases involves the NCAA’s ridiculous amateurism rules and improper benefits. UPDATE: The NCAA has ruled Manziel will be suspended for the first half against Rice.

Jay Bilas, former Duke basketball player and current ESPN analyst, has been the biggest thorn in the NCAA’s side recently, publicly making a mockery of the way they do things. He strongly believes players should be compensated for their services. Bilas has posted many a picture to his Twitter account of examples of schools making a pretty penny off their student athletes. He even shut down the sale of jerseys on the official NCAA website by cleverly searching for a player’s name. The NCAA claimed that the jerseys do not represent the likeness of any player. The sky is also blue, for those keeping score at home. Your move, NCAA.

The Ideas:

There have been many ideas floated around and the NCAA has seemed to stand pat and stick with what it has. It might be a flawed system and changing it might do more short term harm than good, but it needs to be fixed. Some, like Bilas, want to pay the athletes in addition to their free tuition in hopes of discouraging them from seeking out additional compensation. Some seem to think athletes do not appreciate the scholarships they are receiving since it is money they cannot spend. Personally, I always like to look at both sides of the coin and find the flaws with each. Bilas’ crowd lacks the foresight of the additional cost to all universities. You pay one athlete; the remaining 25,000 athletes get paid the same. Considering that only a handful of the top Division I football schools make a profit, this would bankrupt college sports. Or college sports would cease to exist as schools would cancel all athletic programs.

On the other hand, the current system is so far out of whack keeping it the same would do nothing. One example I read about recently involved a student starting his own business. For sake of argument, let’s say two students decide to start and promote their own clothing line. One pays his tuition through student loans or he might even have an academic scholarship while the other is a member of the school’s soccer team with a full scholarship. Both are successful and are making a profit but under NCAA rules, the member of the soccer team is receiving illegal benefits. The NCAA is punishing one of its athletes for his entrepreneurial mindset, claiming it will give him a leg up on the sports field. Chances are this student-athlete will be going pro in something other than sports. Meanwhile, the other student is free to make as much as he wants and is applauded for his business acumen. Seems fair to me.

Proposed Solution:

My idea is a mixture of both viewpoints with a hint of common sense. Simply put, let the athletes choose for themselves. Most incoming freshmen are 18 years of age and are officially classified as adults. They have the right to vote and join the army along with making legal decisions without their parents’ consent. They can also be tried as adults in criminal trials. Why can’t they choose for themselves? Schools can still recruit and offer scholarships as usual but should they receive any benefits in relation to their name, they lose their scholarship and must pay their way like everyone else. Those who do not use their name to make money get to keep their scholarship.

Seems simple enough. This lets the Johnny Football’s, the Jadeveon Clowney’s and the Teddy Bridgewater’s start making money off of their names without hurting their eligibility. Chances are these names will be making millions more at the next level. On the other hand, those who are going pro in something other than sports will have the opportunity to get the education they need to succeed. This would also decrease the amount of investigations done by the NCAA since eligibility would rarely be called into question. In reality, these investigations should be done by the schools themselves since they are the ones losing money in this deal.

Major Points:

Players accepting monetary benefits greater than 25 percent of the yearly value of the scholarship (including cars and other items) are deemed professional and forfeit any previous or future scholarships. Such players must pay the balance of the benefits received from the school. These players cannot return to the ranks of amateurism.

Ex: Player’s scholarship is valued at $25,000 per year. He receives a car valued at $20,000. The player is no longer deemed an amateur and must forfeit his scholarship. He must also now pay for the remainder of his schooling. The school also forfeits that player’s scholarship spot until he graduates or moves on.

If the value of benefits received is less than 25 percent of the yearly value of the scholarship, players have the option to pay back the value of the benefits or be suspended until it is paid back. If that amount is paid by more illegal benefits, that player is deemed a professional and forfeits the remainder of the scholarship. If the player decides not to repay the amount of the benefits, he is deemed a professional and can continue to play but must pay the balance of his schooling.

Ex: A player receives a tattoo from a local parlor totaling $500. The player can either pay the parlor $500, sit games out until he can pay the parlor or be classified as a professional. If the benefit is paid by another gift or benefit, the player is deemed professional.

Ideally this would affect all divisions of play but focus solely on top tier Division I schools. From my knowledge, there are fewer infractions on the lower levels dealing with improper benefits strictly because those athletes have less name recognition.

Merchandise sales: Players have the option of joining the NCAA’s merchandise program where they make a small percentage off of all merchandise with their likeness on it. For example, every #2 Texas A&M jersey sold sees monies going directly to Johnny Manziel.

If the player opts in, he is deemed a professional and forfeits any current and previous scholarship.Player must pay the school the total value of scholarship. Schools may sell jerseys/other merchandise of all athletes but a percentage of those sales go directly into the scholarship fund. This allows student athletes the opportunity to pursue an education while still receiving some benefit of their likeness indirectly.

This contract would also include the rights to EA Sports NCAA Football game. EA Sports would pay the players that opt in while those who opt out still see that money going directly to their scholarship funds.

Arguments against this idea:

18-year-old kids are not able to make these decisions: College is always deemed the time when kids learn about the real world and have to deal with real world issues. Schools should be the ones informing prospective athletes of the risks associated with receiving money as an athlete. A seminar that takes place during the student athletes first semester would suffice and would be taught by the school’s athletic compliance office. This would include the dangers of boosters and the expected costs if an athlete accepted money and went pro. For some, deferring payment and paying it off once the first pro contract is worth it, but there are many that won’t make it to the next level and will ultimately be in the same situation the rest of the nation is in. Student loan payments start six months after graduation.

It’s not fair to those who don’t have the name recognition: Life isn’t fair. Long snappers don’t get any recognition in the NFL either and make a modest salary. I don’t hear them complaining about it. Furthermore, only a small portion of student athletes go pro in their respective sports. College athletics is already unfair even with the current system. Some people are simply going to make more money over the course of their lives due to talent, luck, or smarts. Not everyone can be the CEO of Apple.

It will put kids in danger of getting bribed by the wrong people: Again, college is the time when kids learn about the real world. There are bad business deals every day that don’t make the news. These boosters are simply looking for a return on their investment down the road. Athletes have those “mentors” in their life who they ultimately thank down the road. This should also be discussed in the forum about the dangers of boosters providing cars and benefits.

In conclusion, players should have the option to receive benefits for their namesake. With anything else in life, there are consequences and these athletes should be at least aware of those consequences. Athletes can make bets on their future knowing that if they don’t succeed in sports, they will be in the same place their fellow peers are in; looking for a job while student loans loom over their head. Ultimately, I think this solution will create a more transparent system. Those attending college as a precursor to the professional sports leagues have the opportunity to make money off of their name. Those who use sports as a means to an education also get what they want. My hope is that the focus gets put back on the student and not the athlete down the road.

Agree/disagree? Share your thoughts below or find me on Twitter @Christian_Jense.

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