The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday January 16th

Guest Column: The NCAA’s amateurism model isn’t about education

NCAA President Mark Emmert wants you to believe in him. 

He wants you to believe that student-athletes are students first, not employees, with higher education being at the forefront of what the NCAA holds near and dear. 

He wants you to believe that financial compensation for athletic competition would, quite drastically, alter the college landscape in a way that could deteriorate fairness and ultimately harm its 1,000-plus universities and millions of amateur student-athletes, and that such a pay-for-play scheme is financially improbable. 

He, along with Board of Governors Chairman Michael Drake and the entire NCAA, wants you to believe that they are listening. That they’re going to “permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.” That they’re ready to “embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes.” 

Mark Emmert wants you to believe a lot of things. 


It’s growing increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to believe in a president and a multibillion-dollar organization — which just so happens to be a tax-exempt non-profit, somehow — who have together made egregious displays of corporate self-interest when dealing with student-athlete issues and public calls for systemic change. 

We cannot keep waiting on the NCAA to evolve. It won’t do so willingly. We must force its hand to change, drastically, so that it can actually provide a climate where its athletes are supported in the classroom, on the field and in their pockets. Because, so far, the NCAA hasn’t shown that it genuinely cares. 

Why push back against granting student-athletes their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights until California and many other states presented daring legislation that would place these rights back in the hands of the students? Why is the NCAA so dead-set on preventing student-athletes from even touching money? 

Because “amateurism” — the NCAA’s cockamamie scheme for not paying athletes — is about greed. Keeping the dollars out of the open market, out from the hands of the athletes that are the driving force for this multibillion-dollar industry that earns revenue from advertising, merchandising and massive broadcasting deals. 

Relinquishing NIL rights would signal a dismantling — at least partially — of the amateurism model, something the NCAA doesn’t want to happen. 

Too bad. 

But the NCAA and its high-dollar universities, such as UNC-Chapel Hill — which ranked 34th in the nation in total athletics revenue at $104 million in 2018 — aren’t so ready for change. 

Why? Because the NCAA doesn’t want money to get in the way of “education,” which, it argues, is the foremost emphasis of college athletics. 

If education is the foremost emphasis, then why are athletes not allowed the same freedoms as other members of the student body, who can receive pay for work related to their own talents? Why aren’t athletes allowed to receive compensation that is based on their athletic ability and  linked to the revenue that they generate? 

Not only is proclaiming that college athletics is solely about education disingenuous, it’s also plain wrong. 

Just look around the NCAA. 

According to a 2015 report from the Washington Post, 48 schools in the NCAA’s five wealthiest conferences spent $772 million combined on athletic facilities in 2014, including annual debt payments, capital expenses and maintenance costs. 

In 2015, Clemson announced plans for a $55 million “football-only” facility, complete with sand volleyball, laser tag and mini golf. 

In 2017, the University of Central Florida one-upped them, using $30 million to fund a new facility that would include its very own lazy river. 

And let’s also not forget about the 15 football coaches who have contractual-access to private jets, which can be used for whatever they desire. 

These expenditures aren’t furthering the educational mission, and they’re beaming examples of how the popular “there’s just not enough money” argument is full of gaping holes. 

Money is getting spent on everything in the world of the NCAA other than the student-athletes who put their bodies on the line for a corporation that doesn’t want to budge when it comes to sharing a single cent. 

Because of “education.” Because of “fairness.” Because of “amateurism.” 

It’s not about any of those things. 

It’s about greed, to the utmost degree, and the NCAA can’t be allowed to operate this way any longer. 


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