FORT WAYNE – NCAA czar Mark Emmert may be a lot of things, but dumb as a pile of bricks isnt one of them. The man can sniff whats coming down the wind as ably as anyone.
And whats that these days?
Well, you cant exactly call it a revolution. But when a number of college football players showed up Saturday wearing tape on their wrists with the letters APU (All Players United) scrawled on it, it at least indicated the serfs are getting a tad restless. And theyre starting to ask questions about just how much a full-ride scholarship – which in a lot of cases isnt a full ride at all – should require from them in return.
And so here was Emmert the other day saying change was coming, maybe not in direct response to APU or all the hits the NCAA is getting, but certainly indirectly.
The masks are off, and the shuck of amateurism as it applies to the multibillion dollar business of Division I college football and basketball stands revealed to even the most cursory of observers.
Emmerts statement may be nothing more than a public relations bone to keep the howling at bay and throw everyone off the scent, but I suspect its a bit more. The organizations plainly running scared these days, and scared people are motivated people.
How that motivation manifests itself remains to be seen, but it likely wont involve directly paying the athletes who generate all the dough. The logistics of it, not to say the economics, just dont work.
Too many athletic departments run in the red for any sort of pay model to be realistic.
Heres what can and should be done, though: End the restrictions placed on student-athletes on the premise that theyre amateurs.
They arent, and havent been for some time.
The very fact theyre getting their education paid for implies that they are, in a sense, professionals being paid to do a job that make their coaches and their athletic departments absurdly rich.
And so enough with the idea that a kid who sells his autograph is somehow besmirching some high ideal. Or that its an outrageous notion that, if you turn said kid into a billboard for some apparel company, he shouldnt get a cut. Or that its somehow scandalous if a coach buys him a cheeseburger or he sells the bowl swag he was given with the NCAAs blessing.
The bottom line is, the kid with the big arm or sweet jumper is making money for his or her employer just like any other working stiff. And so he should be allowed to behave like any other working stiff: To hire an agent when he feels like it, to hold a job during the season like any regular student, or to transfer to whatever school he feels like transferring to without penalty and without interference from his current coach – who, after all, has the freedom to do just that whenever a better job pops up.
And while were at it, end the laughable fiction that there are impermissible benefits athletes are not allowed to enjoy simply because regular students dont have access to them. That cuts both ways and always has, because there are things Joe College is allowed to do Joe Jock cannot – i.e., make money off his or her particular talents while still in school, as I did when I got paid 25 bucks a throw by the Muncie Star for covering high school hoops while I was still at Ball State.
Why shouldnt a college athlete be able to do something akin to that with his talents, to the extent its practical?
And why should the NCAA care if he does?