Editorial: Billions of dollars involved, and they call them ‘amateurs’

NCAA football organization chased by antitrust accusations

In journalism school, I learned a lot of skills needed to work as a community newspaper reporter (and editor, and photographer). One of the most important things I ever learned in those two years at SAIT was the advice, “Consider the source.”

Essentially, it means don’t be a sucker and believe everything a source tells you (such as, for example, that vaccines cause genetic diseases or that the NDP are the greatest government Alberta’s ever had). Question what you are told, and remember some sources can be manipulative, self-serving, greedy even, and use falsehoods and dishonesty to hide their motives.

I used to be a huge NFL football fan, and part of being a fan of that league meant watching, or at least keeping up with, NCAA college football down in the States. The vast majority of NFL players come from the American college ranks. By paying attention to NCAA football, you learn a lot about the big stars coming into the league.

Anyone who keeps up with the American sports scene knows NCAA sports are huge business south of the border. Football and basketball in particular generate huge hype and revenue. In Canada, things like the Vanier Cup do not compare to something like, say, the Rose Bowl. Some of the college stadiums have capacities over 100,000 people. Big business.

I’m also a sports video game enthusiast, and since the mid-1990’s I’ve bought a series of football video games crafted by EA called NCAA Football. In the game every year are all 125 division I-A teams, including famous ones like Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma and Florida State, and each team includes a full roster of players, right down to the punter.

Since the 1990s, I’d noticed the rosters included actual players, identified by numbers but not names. This seemed strange to me because by nature NCAA players are amateurs, not professionals; that is, they don’t make any money for playing college football.

But as I observed over the following years, the NCAA sure made money on their sports teams. Massive money. According to USAToday, the NCAA football Top 25 teams made in the billions of dollars in 2016 alone. This includes video game royalty, where EA the game maker and the NCAA were exploiting players’ likenesses for money despite the players getting nothing for it.

The NCAA argued the players got college educations from their scholarships, but as an antitrust lawsuit revealed, the NCAA were screwing players on that too, all the while bitterly opposing players getting any payment for playing football.

The Chicago Tribune reported last February, “The NCAA and 11 major athletic conferences announced Friday night they have agreed to pay $208.7 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by former college athletes who claimed the value of their scholarships was illegally capped.”

When I was a kid I was taught that I should expect to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. If our society operates the way it’s supposed to I guess that boils down to something akin to, “Everyone should expect to get what they’ve earned for their efforts.”

I have always been strongly in favour of NCAA football players being paid. An acquaintance of mine, as we argued over this situation, said, “Nope, they don’t deserve money, they’re amateurs.” This argument is flawed and proves how little thought was even put into the statement.

Professional sports is based around money. The billions of dollars the NCAA gets by exploiting those players is, in my opinion, proof that said players are not amateur and are in fact professional and the rather flaccid defense offered by the NCAA, “We’ve given you a $20,000 scholarship, what more do you want?” proves only one thing speaks in NCAA sports.

Greed.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of the Pipestone Flyer newspaper and writes a regular column for the paper.

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