The Idea Of Paying College Athletes Is Having Its Moment

The aftershocks from "The Shame of College Sports," Taylor Branch's devastating cover story in The Atlantic, continue to ripple. Two other pieces are out today advancing the notion that college athletes deserve financial compensation.

There's Et tu, Mr. Destructo, which directly addresses the continued criticism of the concept:

Unfortunately for these people, paying college athletes is now a subject on the table, and it's not going to come off. Consequently, what these critics need to do, will do and have already done, is shift their tactics opposing the payment of athletes to convincing everyone else that college athletes are already being paid. This is nothing new; simultaneously adopting two contradictory conclusions has always lain at the heart of disingenuously championing amateurism. ... That said, concluding that athletes are already satisfactorily compensated merely superimposes the large flaws of the system on three already flawed conditions."

And then there's former Deadspin intern Ben Cohen in the Wall Street Journal, who took the discussion straight to the NCAA, whose spokesman said it's "clear that paying student-athletes a salary is in no way on the table." But Cohen nonetheless goes a step further by positing a potential way in which paying athletes can be achieved, while also putting forth a potential drawback:

University of New Haven business professor Allen Sack, a former Notre Dame football player, believes there's a way for students to be compensated without forcing schools to pay them. He said NCAA athletes should take a page from the Olympic model of amateurism. They should be allowed to take control of their own marketing rights: to hire agents, sign endorsement deals and engage in other "entrepreneurial" activities. "Anybody who can write a business plan is able to make money from big-time college sports-except the athletes themselves," he said.

Unlike a system that offers stipends or pays athletes directly, this wouldn't cost the NCAA or any of its member institutions a nickel. The financial burden would land with the shoe companies, multinational corporations and local car dealerships who want to enlist the athletes to help them push products. Drexel sports-management professor Ellen Staurowsky said this sort of arrangement might help protect schools from the "underground economy" that gives star athletes benefits under the table.

One common criticism of adopting the Olympic model is that it might allow boosters to lavish millions on athletes on their favorite teams under the guise of sponsorship. For example, rather than supporting the Oregon athletic department, Nike founder Phil Knight could simply pay Oregon's players to wear Nike gear.

Obviously, devising a transparent compensation structure is going to take work. That the discussion is even gaining traction is something of a victory.

Scholarships and Compensation: The Intercollegiate National Lie [Et tu, Mr. Destructo]
The Case For Paying College Athletes [Wall Street Journal]

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