Neither higher education, of which college sports is only a small part, nor intercollegiate athletics is truly capitalistic. They do not generate revenue to make a profit; they generate revenue to fulfill a purpose, to meet the mission of higher education. If they were models of capitalism, many academic programs and nearly all sports other than football and men's basketball would be dropped because they are too costly and do not generate enough revenue to pay their own way.Read the whole thing. I'm not necessarily in favor of institutions paying the athletes, but the argument itself isn't the most convincing.
Brand is right that most collegiate sports don't make money just as many college departments don't make money. They're still part of a broader, profit-driven institution however. Just as the janitorial crew that cleans up a pro sports stadium contributes to the product but doesn't add to the bottom line, some college sports are around and contribute something without profiting. However, the janitorial crew gets compensated because they are an essential part of the machine. So are the athletes, but without cash reimbursement.
The Reggie Bush situation was an eye-opener of sorts, for me. It exposed an opening that the NCAA simply cannot present an ironclad argument against. Bush was compensated for his own talents, outside of the view of the institution while at USC. In that he really isn't that much different from the star violinist being recruited by various orchestras while still participating in the college symphony.
The difference is the violinist can make those kinds of choices without repercussion. Bush (and many other athletes like him) can't. The logic as to why the NCAA says "no" is weak at best. Brand's defense of athletes' amateur status is as follows:
College sports has survived as a component of campus for a century and a half now for two reasons: 1) Those who play are students, and 2) Intercollegiate athletics shares in the driving purpose of higher education -- to educate students.
And none of that changes if someone like Bush takes cash or gifts in half-baked schemes from guys looking to start an agency with Bush as their headline client. He's still a student at the end of the day, taking classes in addition to his work on the football field. Brand adds:
Professional athletes are paid because playing sports is their job. Playing sports is not the job of student-athletes. They are amateurs at it.
And this reveals a bias against athletics as an actual vocation. Athletics is the only arena within academia that faces sanction for those under its jurisdiction attempting to become working professionals. The star engineering student and his school face no sanction for taking that big job before graduation, or accepting a fancy dinner from a future employer while still a student (or in the NCAA's language, a student-engineer). The music major can participate in the city's major orchestra as well as the one at the school. Those are respectable vocations, as is professional athletics.
There are better arguments to be made against the validity of Bush's actions, but not presented here. Namely, protecting a level playing field in college athletics.
However, the notion of amateurism is forever damaged and blurred into a million yes and no areas that make little to no sense even to the most intelligent of observers (quick, try to figure out why professional baseball players can return to school and have eligibility in other sports like football, but a guy like Jeremy Bloom could no longer play football at Colorado because of endorsement money he took to finance his other role as an Olympic-level mogul skier? Good luck). That edifice is crumbling and beyond repair. Better arguments must be offered than what the NCAA has provided to date.
Getting back to Brand for a moment, this is his third such article at the Huffington Post. I applaud the NCAA's efforts to reach out to broader media and attempt to defend itself. There is a worthy public conversation to be had discussing the NCAA's role, its arguments for why it does what it does, and what it does right and what it doesn't do right. I look forward to his future entries.