Friday, January 16, 2015

For the Love of the Game

For the Love of the Game
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
January 16, 2014

As a former teaching assistant at a major university during my graduate school days and a longtime fan of college sports I am not so na├»ve as to suggest college athletics is anything but a business for the schools that field teams – as long as those teams put fans in the stands.

Prior to jumping from the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) to the Big Ten, my alma mater, the University of Maryland (2002 National Champions in men’s basketball by way of defeating the Indiana Hoosiers) trimmed their athletic department by seven sports as a cost-cutting effort. I, for one, was disappointed to see the women’s water polo team bounced, but understood why. It’s all about the money – for the schools, but not for all the players.

Steve Siebold was wrong on several levels in his Thursday Indianapolis Star editorial “It’s time to pay college athletes.” His suggestion that because the players in the football championship did not receive monetary remuneration they did not emerge winners is faulty logic. The players won game after game on a national stage thus growing their own vales in preparation for the next level – the NFL.

Granted, not all players will play in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL; in fact fewer than two percent who play college athletics will collect a major league salary. But college athletes know that going in and still play. They still endure the two-a-day practices in sweltering heat, the long bus rides, playing in rain and snow. They play for the love of the game.

College athletes already get paid – scholarships covering tuition, room and board, and an opportunity to make something of their lives the lack of a college campus would not provide. Studies show athletes benefit from the sense of teamwork, discipline, and coaching in work places later in life from which non-athletes do not.

Siebold is wrong to suggest a free education is not enough of an incentive for student athletes. This is an opportunity many athletes would not be afforded were it not for their skill of the field of play. Consider how many non-athletes would salivate at the opportunity to have a tuition/room and board scholarship.

As for those not drafted by a professional team, many athletes take their skills and talents on the road, playing basketball in Israel, football in Canada, soccer in any number of European leagues. And aside from the big four major leagues, the WNBA, men’s and women’s soccer, golf and tennis, there’s not a high demand for many of the roughly three dozen sports found on college campuses.

It is because 98 percent of the college athletes will not be suiting up for a professional team in the United States that earning their degrees is so vital. Earn a living off the field of play. Many will stay on the field as coaches, some move into management – with a degree, some move into the broadcast booth – with or without a degree.

If players were to be paid, who would determine the salaries? The individual schools? If so, there would be bidding wars from schools to sign on the best high school players – not unlike the recruitment process of today, but infinitely more intensified, as the Ohio States and the Alabamas of the world would be able to outbid the Ohio Northerns and the Samfords of the world.

Should there be a salary cap like in some of the major sports, thus a slap in the face of capitalism. After all, if these players are to be paid, why should there be a limit to how much is too much? What would be the impact of Title IX with regards to potential gender bias? Would there be any involvement from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) or the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board)?

Would pay be the same for basketball players as both men and women play 40-minute games? Would it be more for men than women in tennis as men play five sets and women three? Would all athletes be paid – even in the sports that are revenue loss leaders? If a player transfers to another school who pays the remainder of the contract?

Clearly each player would have to be under contract. Would the contract include a period time that students would be allowed to be on campus as a student to earn a degree. Would turning pro be a breach of contract? And if so, what would be the penalty? The student should be made to remunerate the university the value of the contract – even if he or she is not signed to a professional contract.

More bad than good comes from paying student athletes. Paying athletes would eliminate all thought of being a student and put them on a singular, linear path of earning that paycheck, thus further separating them from the rest of the student body giving them a greater sense of entitlement and allowance to take more liberties.

I support a return to the days when freshman didn’t play. Extend eligibility a year, but hold the student athletes to academic standards. The NCAA is already the de facto minor leagues for the NFL and NBA. There should be minor league systems for those sports and those athletes who legitimately do not qualify to be on a college campus should go that route. Former Indiana coach Bobby Knight once said “college isn’t for everyone.” He was right then and it still applies today.

Those who are fortunate enough to play college sports and get an education should also be covered by the university with an insurance policy, with the player as the beneficiary. An athlete injured beyond the point of an athletic career should be able to continue their education and not worry about their future if injured on the university’s clock. As for merchandise, take all players’ names off the jerseys and the fans can buy them for the name on the front. Players come and go; one’s alma mater is forever. Go Terps!

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. The University of Maryland alumnus is a member of the Alumni Association, the Terrapin Club supporting athletic scholarships for student athletes, and the Rebounders, supporting the women’s basketball team.

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