Last week the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted to allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness. They can also hire agents and sign endorsement deals.
I’m all for allowing college athletes to make money from video games, public appearances, autograph signings and commercials. Actors, artists and musicians who are enrolled in college are allowed to do the same thing. No college tries to stop them. No one complains if they leave school to pursue their career. Colleges will still consider them alumni.
Reality is that the best college athletes in football and basketball will benefit the most. Next would be anyone who could be expected to earn an Olympic medal in their sport. So might the best players in sports like baseball, lacrosse, soccer and wrestling where a school has a long history of success. But while appearance fees, endorsements and the like are paid by someone other than the college, they would likely be tied to performance. The money will not be guaranteed in the event of an academic difficulty, illegality, illness or injury while competing. The smart athlete will want to stay healthy and wise to maintain their gains.
I thought about this issue because my undergraduate and graduate alma maters, Rutgers and Illinois, have lousy football teams. They were not always lousy. In fall of 1983, my last semester in graduate school at Illinois, the football team won the Big Ten title. The Fighting Illini beat Ohio State and Michigan at home, and went to the Rose Bowl. Memorial Stadium sold out for every game. Twenty-three years later, I watched a then-unbeaten Rutgers team beat then-unbeaten and second-ranked Louisville on route to an 11-2 season. Our stadium was nearly filled. The 1983 Fighting Illini and the 2006 Scarlet Knights had their stars; several got a shot at the NFL. Three Scarlet Knights: Devin and Jason McCourty on the Patriots, and Clark Harris on the Bengals, are still active. Anyone who played on these teams is unlikely to pay for a drink anytime they venture by campus.
Suppose a prospective football or basketball player has a choice of programs in a high-profile conference.
Which schools should he consider?
Some universities are more used to winning than others. The Penn State community around main campus, for instance, holds their football teams in high esteem. The back-up offensive guard from years past is given a hero’s welcome from downtown merchants. No matter their record the Nittany Lions always draw well. Same holds true for the schools in other Big Ten cities. Ann Arbor, Columbus, East Lansing, Lincoln and Madison quickly come to mind. Why would a star athlete turn down a successful program for a losing one, especially when he might be forever loved in a winning college town, and also have an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks?
I wish that the NCAA went a step further to spread the wealth. Share revenues from the sales of video games, jerseys, broadcasts and other licensed items to offer a larger pot of gold for all college athletes, regardless of their sport. My concern is that the players at the rich and successful programs will be the only ones to get richer.
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