NCAA still in ‘perpetual delay’ mode on student-athlete pay

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It’s been about a week since the NCAA announced that college athletes soon will be able to get paid. The NCAA Board of Governors on October 29 voted that all three divisions immediately come up with new rules to be in place by January 2021 that allows college players “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.” 

The news was met with both praise and skepticism.

“They [the NCAA] is getting all kinds of credit for doing something when they’ve not done anything at all,” Drexel University Professor Ellen Staurowsky bluntly observed. Staurowsky teaches sport management and is a longtime advocate on social justice issues in sports, including paying college athletes. 

Last week’s NCAA decision comes nearly a month after California’s Fair Pay to Play Act was signed into law. The law, which the NCAA strongly opposed from the beginning, will allow California student-athletes to earn money from endorsements and sponsors, but not requiring schools to pay players. This fact still didn’t stop the NCAA from threatening some sort of legal action against the law, which doesn’t take effect until 2023.

A group of NCAA officials began studying athletes’ compensation in May and set up a “working group,” co-led by Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. The group last week presented their findings; the Governors unanimously voted for the new changes. 

Photo courtesy of Drexel University Ellen Staurowsky

During his scheduled visit to St. Paul last month, NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman jokingly told us, “They love working groups and they are hard at work.”  Then, more seriously, he noted, “If they come up with some nonsensible ideas or things so watered down, the reformers will brush it off.”

More importantly it’s consistent with the NCAA’s usual stonewalling ways in regards to the issue of paying college athletes. “There is nothing in the announcement that the NCAA has done anything at all,” Staukowsky reiterated. “It seems to be a part of the ongoing strategy…to be in a perpetual delay in dealing with these issues.”

The NCAA over the years has mastered the art of misinformation, subscribing to an antiquated “amateurism” model while it rakes in millions from television deals. Colleges and universities rake in their huge share of big bucks, all on the backs of players, the nonparticipants in the revenue sharing system. 

“I’ve been really clear that college athletics is about college students playing other college students, not employees playing employees,” NCAA President Mark Emmert declared last spring at the Final Four in Minneapolis.   

“It is an epic battle,” Staurowsky said of the virtual tug of war between the NCAA and the players on opposite sides of the capitalist canyon called big-time college sports. 

For the record, athletic scholarships aren’t payments to college players, as some believe and the NCAA constantly purports. “The very essence of what we are talking about,” Staurowsky stressed, “is that athletes need to be empowered with good information that they can advocate for themselves.

“For anyone who has studied this issue, what we are arguing about is in terms of the rights of athletes to operate within a free market and to realize their value in that market,” Staurowsky pointed out. “That opportunity has been stripped away from athletes over the period of the 20th Century. The NCAA portraying themselves as forward-thinking is simply not true.”

Next week: a historical look back at the issue of paying college athletes.