The millionaire administrators who prop up the NCAA often say deeply, deeply stupid things when defending their right to make millions of dollars off of the unpaid labor of athletes, but what University of Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said in this month's issue of Texas Monthly deserves special recognition.
While laying out the same tired arguments against a pay-f0r-play model, Patterson was asked if college football stars, such as Johnny Manziel and Vince Young, should at least be allowed to profit from their own likenesses. His response:
"No," he says categorically. "I am not saying they did not benefit the university. But you have to understand that both parties benefit. The university is largely creating the value. The athletes are trading on the value the universities have created. No corporations are going to be lining up to pay them money out of high school. They also get a huge benefit on the college stage by having such assets as strength coaches, nutritionists, psychological support, tutors, mentors, media training. All of that costs money. It is too easy for those in the sports press to say, 'You are manipulating and using these kids. You are giving them nothing.' We are not giving them nothing."
Consider the stance that Patterson is taking when he puts this argument forward. Because there is indeed a symbiotic relationship between athlete and school: Ohio State isn't selling out home games with chemistry majors taking the field, and a football player isn't becoming a star without a big school's name on his jersey. This is something everyone can basically agree on, and yet Patterson presents the relationship as an adversarial one. He seems to believe that Texas would carry on just fine, raking in millions and millions of dollars, if all the football players just up and disappeared tomorrow. The university is largely creating the value.
You know who else talks this way? Owners of professional sports teams. Patterson isn't doing anything but parroting the crap that came out of Donald Sterling's mouth—"I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses ...Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?"—when he committed his self-destruction to tape. We make the game, not the players.
Put aside the staggering obtuseness of that worldview for a moment, and consider that Patterson is very plainly taking the stance of a business manager, someone whose interests are aligned with those of ownership—which makes college sports a business.
The thing about business is that it's premised on a fair exchange of money for labor. You can't imagine Donald Sterling arguing that Chris Paul should suit up in exchange for "such assets as strength coaches, nutritionists, psychological support, tutors, mentors, media training"; for all his very real disdain for the people who worked for him, he at least acknowledged that this is what they were doing. Steve Patterson will surely never say the sorts of things that got Sterling thrown out of professional sports, but when it comes down to it, what he has to say isn't all that much better.