NCAA’s defense of amateurism takes its last stand

If the NCAA had its way, they’d just say sorry and go back to BAU—business as usual, especially in making billions on the backs of college athletes.

Ellen Staurowsky calls the NCAA “a million dollar juggernaut.” The Ithaca College sports media professor has for decades battled college sport’s King Kong, beginning with her 2009 study that found financial shortfalls for scholarship athletes. She also has written amicus briefs for court cases involving players and former players suing the NCAA.

Photo courtesy of Drexel University Ellen Staurowsky

The Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments on the Alston case. Former college football player Shawne Alston sued the NCAA in 2014 on anti-trust grounds. A judge ruled in 2019 that the organization could not place any financial limits on what athletes can get from each school in exchange for their athletic ability.  

The NCAA appealed the decision and again lost in 2020. Now the high court’s decision is expected sometime in May or June.

They annually call it March Madness and The Big Dance, at least when it comes to men’s basketball. Last month NCAA officials tap-danced around the issue of gender equality after it was exposed on social media how little there between the men’s and women’s tournaments. 

Despite stumbling NCAA pledges to do better, Staurowsky and others remain skeptical. The NCAA and its mostly male proponents continue their own “big lie” that women’s sports and Title IX eventually will bring down men’s sports.

An Associated Press survey found that 94 percent of the athletic directors they asked believe that it will be difficult to comply with Title IX gender equity rules if they have to pay athletes.  Another 80 percent said that fewer schools would be competitive if revenue sharing with the players took place.

Then there’s the NIL issue—name, images and likeness. A 2019 California law that gives college athletes the right to earn compensation from their name, image or likeness is set to go into effect later this year, and at least 39 states have some kind of NIL bills being discussed in state legislatures.

“A combination of a favorable ruling in Alston along with the state laws [on] names, likeness and images…might help move this thing along,” continued Staurowsky. But she quickly added, “I’m not persuaded that if a favorable ruling [occurs] the NCAA will do what they should do in terms of treating athletes better.”

Courtesy NCAA NCAA President Mark Emmert

History shows that the NCAA’s Jericho Wall against paying college players and gender equality, fighting back with lawsuits and public shaming, hasn’t lost a brick. If indeed college sport is amateurism, “college head coaches would make a couple thousand dollars” rather than the millions they currently make, says SUNY-Cortland Professor Lindsay Darvin.  

“I’m completely committed” to gender equity, claimed NCAA President Mark Emmert last week to reporters, including the MSR. He later announced that an independent gender equity review of all its championships and sports in all three divisions will be conducted.

 “The NCAA are allowing biases, stereotypes, and implicit discriminatory preferences rule the decisions they’re making on behalf of student athletes,” added Darvin.

Surmised Staurowsky, “The NCAA’s defense of amateurism does not hold up. [They] had the opportunity from the 1980s to the present—three decades—to present a model of equity and to live up to the claims that they [are for] equity. They exploit male athletes. They do not treat female athletes equally. All of these athletes are in the same situation—[none] are being treated right.”