Return to Opinion

POV: Rebuttal to BU Today’s Pro-Amateurism Op-Ed

POV BU Today Amateurism RebuttalNovember 27, 2019
Sheilla Dingus

Those of us in the thick of the battle for athlete rights have mostly become immune or perhaps oblivious to the shilling on the part of the NCAA.  We’ve come to realize that regardless of our efforts, Mark Emmert and his pals will continue selling their Kool-Aid for as long as they’re permitted to.  We’re accustomed to athletic directors and high-priced coaches pushing the false narratives of amateurism and justifying why their six-and seven-figure salaries are just whereas the labor that enables them to earn those salaries isn’t entitled to as much as minimum wage.   We’re used to watching the same coaches make a run for a new school when offered a higher wage but denying their players the same rights of mobility.  We’ve heard all the very predictable arguments at least 10,000 times like a bad sit-com rerun that refuses to go away.  We’ve grown accustomed to muting the sour complaints of jealous (mostly white) “fans” who bemoan the “free” educations bestowed on some athletes while they had to pay for their own.  Oh, the travesty that perhaps someone else worked a bit harder or perhaps had more talent.

All in a day’s advocacy.

But every once in awhile, you see a pitch that while completely unoriginal is so egregious you feel forced to respond. Today is one of those days. I just finished reading “POV: California’s Fair Pay to Play Act Will Destroy the Philosophy of Amateurism in Collegiate Sports,” on the BU Today website.  The article was written by Professor Ellen Faszewski, a Human Development clinical professor and associate dean for student affairs. That’s all her BU Today bio states about her academic role but heralds her role as an NCAA faculty representative and involvement with the NCAA Division III FAR Fellows Institute, with apparent pride.

I was initially taken aback just a tad in seeing her op-ed in BU Today partially because I’ve seen op-eds in numerous California student newspapers enthusiastically supporting SB-206 and op-eds from schools in states that haven’t yet proposed their own legislation purposed to allow college athletes to profit from their name, images, and likenesses, urging their lawmakers to follow California’s path.  So why was this professor penning an anti-student op-ed in a college newspaper, I wondered.  Clicking the about link answered my question.  “BU Today is Boston University’s daily website…It is published by the Marketing & Communications office.”  Well, despite its name it’s not a student-run paper, but rather a marketing tool apparently used to advantage Athletic Department objectives favoring the highly paid powerbrokers over the athletes.

So, now, having identified the source, let’s do some deconstructing.

Legislation will also lead to inequalities among athletes

Will lead to?  I’m not sure where Prof. Faszewski’s been hiding if she doesn’t realize inequality already exists. White Quarterback, the son of an attorney, and an engineer, already has lots of things that Black Running Back, the son of a single mother who works at Walmart doesn’t.  While QB drives around campus in his shiny sports car, RB is trying to figure out how to pay for a brake job on the $800 clunker he bought off Craig’s List.  While QB enjoys his off-campus condo with private laundry facilities, RB tries to hustle laundry detergent in order to have enough money to pay for the coin laundry.  As QB treats his girlfriend to pacceri at Bar Mezzana, RB scours his dorm for enough change to cover the buy-one-get-one Whopper deal at Burger King to treat his favorite gal.

Perhaps QB will have even more money as a result of his endorsements, and if he’s earned them, there’s no problem with this in the least, but on the other hand, maybe RB will at minimum, be able to afford a brake job and take his date to Applebee’s.

What’s probably more worrisome to Faszewski and those who share her opinion is that Black Wide Receiver might earn endorsements in line with QB. While he might arrive on campus without a car, if allowed to profit from his skills and personality, he might soon be driving his teammates around in a brand new Mercedes AMG.  When you can’t control their purse-strings, or have the power of life and death over their opportunities, it’s harder to keep the subjects quiet, compliant, and in line.  Perhaps it’s not inequality that’s feared so much but rather the fact that endorsement deals will make some athletes more equal and less easy to manipulate.

Athletics has been in my blood since I was eight years old, when I started competitive swimming. My love of sports only grew as I discovered basketball, softball, lacrosse, and more recently, ice hockey. When my glory days ended (a decision made when I realized I was twice as old as the other women playing in the recreational lacrosse league), I decided to swap the stick for a whistle. I have been an active member of collegiate sports, including student-athlete, coach, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) faculty athletic representative, and professor of collegiate athletes. For these reasons, the breaking news from California of the passage of the Fair Pay to Play Act earlier this fall hits close to home.

Faszewski just told us she likes sports—with the exception of basketball, sports largely populated by white players who derive the money for their scholarships from the labor of guys like WR, RB, and QB.

This legislation, which will go into effect in 2023, will allow student-athletes to receive financial compensation for their participation above and beyond money received for cost-of-attendance scholarships.

Yay! It’s about time athletes had equal rights as others on campus.

They would be able to hire agents and receive endorsements for their name, image, and likeness (NIL).

More good news!

This isn’t the first time that the question of whether student-athletes can receive compensation for NIL has arisen. The amount of money being made by the NCAA (and others) off of the work of student-athletes has piqued the interest of many. US Senator Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote a report, Madness Inc., last March in which he examined the millions of dollars the NCAA is making while forcing amateurism. USA Today’s Tom Schad and Steve Berkowitz have taken a closer look at the salaries of some college coaches who “make severely more money than the governor of the state in which they coach” and cited Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney’s $9.32 million compensation in 2019 compared to the $120,000 salary for South Carolina’s governor. Granted, the Clemson coach’s salary represents the top tier of NCAA football coaches’ salaries, but when compared to how much a collegiate athlete may make (tuition, room and board, and $5,000 for educational expenses), it highlights a glaring problem in collegiate sports.

Correct once again.

To address the financial inequities, previous court cases, including O’Bannon v. NCAA and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletic Grant-in-Aid Cap Antitrust Litigation, have focused on whether the NCAA has violated antitrust laws by not allowing student-athletes to make money from their NIL. The question of compensation for student-athletes for their NIL has even risen to the federal level, as seen in the Student Athlete Equity Act proposed by US Representatives Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), introduced this past March.

Of course, in both instances, NCAA was found to be in violation of antitrust law, so why wouldn’t it be appropriate for legislators, create stop-gap laws to prevent abuses that antitrust law, in and of itself was enacted to accomplish, yet failed to do?

Here it comes…

Okay. So I get it. A lot of money is made in college sports…well, to clarify…select college sports, such as football and basketball, and the athletes aren’t receiving many of the profits. But how does this even greater focus on financial gain align with the core values that are at the foundation of collegiate sports?

Just whose “core values” are we talking about here?  Those of people who have no problem with theft, I presume since appropriating things like the images and likeness of others without compensating them is precisely that.

We must ask ourselves, what is the purpose of collegiate sports, and to do so, we must begin with the creation of the collegiate sports governing body, the NCAA.

The purpose?  How about entertainment?  Or maybe profit for those at the top of the food chain.  I’ll agree that we need to look at the head of the snake otherwise known as NCAA to answer the question.

The NCAA was originally founded in 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association in an attempt to address the underregulation of intercollegiate athletics that resulted in cheating scandals, deaths, and injuries.

Right, bunches of players were dying on the field and doctors found brain trauma and death to be problematic.  Guess what? Over one-hundred years later NCAA still hasn’t fixed the problem.  One needs to walk no further than the other side of the BU campus where the CTE brain bank is located to measure their success or lack thereof in that regard.

The NCAA is the largest amateur organization in the United States.

Bingo. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Amateur athletes differ from professional athletes in that they are not allowed to be paid except for cost-of-attendance scholarships plus up to $5,000 of educational-related expenses.

How better to keep people under your control than to keep them broke?

New legislation, such as the Fair Pay to Play Act, will not only add to the current problem of money in collegiate sports…

The current “problem of money in collegiate sports” is that athletes are working full-time for a sports program that puts their bodies and brains at risk for a questionable return on their investment.  So how does allowing them to earn money add to the problem?

… but it will also help destroy the philosophy of amateurism in collegiate sports as well as lead to inequities among athletes.

Oh, yes, the philosophy of white supremacy and leverage of income inequality.  Lest we forget, amateur athletics were initially designed to keep blacks, minorities, and the poor out of competition, and thus spoiling the fun of rich white kids, when outplayed by their “inferiors.”  The wealthy sportsmen figured that poor folk couldn’t afford to devote so much time to the pursuit of athletics unless they could earn money from their time investment, so this was viewed as a way to exclude them.  Eventually, someone figured out that winning creates prestige and that including talented “social inferiors” would ultimately bolster their own standing.  But the amateurism model was kept in place because the brokers at the top needed a way to keep the “inferiors” under their control.  “You can’t have inmates running the prison,”as the late Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, infamously said.  McNair was referring to pros who, while in most instances are handsomely paid, are still viewed as “inferiors” by league ownership.  How much more incentive does the NCAA require to maintain leverage over the free labor force?

By now, you might be thinking that I don’t support student-athletes.

Perhaps your statements might lead to that conclusion.

Not so. I am just suggesting that we think about an alternative solution to the problem instead of throwing more money at the problem.

Money as a solution to poverty, inequality and an imbalance of power.  How absurd. [eye roll.]

For example, what if we were to take one of the sports in which players could actually benefit from this legislation, such as football teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and remove them from the NCAA.

No problem with removing anyone from the NCAA if, in fact, it must continue to exist. I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures.  How many times has separation of revenue sports been proposed and rejected? I guess some people figure that having a few athletes who are subject to exploitation is preferable to none although the NCAA, itself has shown no willingness to release anyone from its grip.

Removal from the NCAA will preserve the original founding mission of the NCAA and the benefits of amateurism.

Just what are these “benefits” pray tell?

Second, remove the word “student” from “student-athlete” …

Yes, please do remove the “student” from “student-athlete.”  By now, I think we all realize that the hyphenated word is the result of litigation genius that has saved the NCAA and schools major money in relieving them from responsibility to athletes with battered bodies and brains.

…and have athletes participate solely in athletics and pay them for their participation (which could also include compensation for endorsements, etc.).

Hey, this is a great idea, and you’ve inadvertently deconstructed NCAA’s argument that people won’t watch football if football players are earning money. So, let’s do this. But why stop there?  Don’t you think swimmers and gymnasts, etc. might also benefit from earning money at the peak of their popularity?

Once their collegiate playing days are over, they could actually focus on being a student.

Quite true, but why force them to make an either-or choice? Let those who can handle the academic and athletic rigors pursue both disciplines, just as Historical Basketball League will do starting next year?  Or let those who can only handle one discipline at a time, defer.  It is, after all, their lives, at question.

Last, have athletes form unions to provide a unified voice at the bargaining table.

Now you’re talking, but a bit late to the party.  Athletes have been trying to unionize for years as the NCAA compares them to inmates in order to deny their claims to employment and the right to unionize.  Where were the voices of support when the NCAA seemed invincible?  Where was the support for unionization when the term “student-athlete” was coined to avoid compensating the injured?

Let’s leave collegiate sports as amateur sports, the way they were intended to be.

Let’s not.

Amateur is for when you’re four-years-old and take delight in falling on every ball thrown or kicked and yelling “touchdown,” like my exuberant young cousin who thankfully wasn’t enrolled in organized youth football, but instead played the backyard version just for the fun of it.

Prof. Faszewski makes references to “core values” and “purpose of collegiate sports.”  Since the dubious roots of the “core values” professed have already been exposed to a degree, let’s consider the “purpose,” and answer it in one word, “entertainment.”

While entertainment is relevant to participation in sports, the entertainment aspects relating to an athlete’s enjoyment have long been subservient to the entertainment of paying spectators and the promoters who profit from the spectators’ money.  You don’t enjoy competing while injured?  Just try to explain that to a seven-figure coach who proclaims “the show must go on” and participation isn’t optional.  Explain that to Jordan McNair’s grieving parents and try to convince them their son was enjoying himself as he gasped for his last breaths due to untreated heat exhaustion.

A very long time ago someone figured out that in a society with sufficient disposable income people will pay to be entertained.  Whether that entertainment is in the form of concerts, movies, video games or sports, the stakes changed for those producing the entertainment.  While she may enjoy it, the singer no longer sings just for sheer joy of doing so.  She knows that in order to have her place on the stage she must create a persona to match her voice and market her name and image.  At least she is allowed to do so.  On the same token athletes may love their sport but no longer are they playing out of some misguided sense of purity and idealism, but unlike the singer, they must enter indentured servitude before they can benefit from their diligent workouts and on-field or court success.  Only a fool would equate the college football experience to that of my four-year-old cousin gleefully “scoring” touchdown after touchdown in his backyard.

Certainly, there was a time when kids played sports for no reason aside from the fact that sports are fun.  Then maybe when they got older, they became more serious about the sport when they came to realize that winning was more fun than losing.

Often, it seems, kids are channeled into sports they don’t even enjoy driven by parents who are seeking to fulfil some kind of void in their own lives.  Instead of being allowed to play soccer and basketball and softball, the young athlete is forced to give up sports that she loves in order to specialize in the one in which she’s demonstrated the most skill.  All in hopes of obtaining an athletic scholarship that will only serve to limit, rather than broaden her career options.

The brokers, so to speak, noticed all this, of course.  They noticed that parents, people affiliated with a place or a school, or even people just looking for a distraction with which to occupy their time, created a market ripe for exploitation.  While we take our dogs to the dog park so that they can play with abandon, that’s no longer the case for children at the ballpark.  A billion-dollar industry has formed around youth sports, and children are required to become mini-adults, focusing on skill development, achievement, and even in some instances the same kinds of marketability that child pageant contestants rely on to place them at the top of their circuits where adulation and fame are the rewards of perfect delivery while ridicule and loss of self-esteem often awaits those who don’t measure up in some way.

Every person in America is born with a name, a face, and a likeness or persona.  In capitalistic societies, people are encouraged to make use of these assets to compete in the marketplace for jobs and income, fame and fortune.  Innately there’s nothing wrong with this.  One of the core beliefs of capitalism is that individuals will achieve if they are able to profit from their endeavors, and this is where amateurism fails.

Under the guise of amateurism athletes, great and small must forfeit their birthrights, gambling that perhaps by waiving ownership of their NIL, while giving their all, they might beat the odds and eventually play professionally, at that point regaining and monetizing what was taken from them.  Or maybe even if the athlete and her parents don’t foresee a sports career, they cast eyes on the prize of a sports scholarship that will be of less benefit academically than an academic scholarship encouraging the pursuit of demanding and specialized majors that lead to financially and often emotionally rewarding careers.

All the discussion about how opportunists, saw the monetary potential of sports and propagated the myth of amateurism in order to steer profits toward themselves rather than the athletes producing the labor doesn’t negate the value or enjoyment of sport for the athlete—it’s just that sports are more enjoyable if you aren’t being exploited.

During my 10th and 11th grade years, I played in a co-ed community volleyball league and relished the experience.  I wasn’t a natural so I worked hard to develop my skills in order to be competitive and felt a great sense of pride and achievement when I earned the starting setter role.  I derived intense satisfaction from placing the ball in perfect position for our hitters to nail a scoring spike against our opponents.  Winning the league championship was especially thrilling, but the thrill wasn’t dependent on anything outside the game itself.  We seldom drew more than a dozen spectators on each side, and my mother never saw me play.  My dad was the coach, so I did take satisfaction in earning his approval since he tended to be harder on me than other players on the team, but aside from that, I just had fun challenging myself to see what I could do.  I doubt it would have held the same thrill had someone told me that in order to play I had to change my body type, give up dancing and concentrate on nothing but volleyball.  In phys-ed, some of the coaches noticed my skills and tried to recruit me for the high school team, but I declined.  I didn’t want to give up the other things that I enjoyed like my dance lessons and part-time job to satisfy their time requirements.  I certainly don’t think I’d have enjoyed complying with all the demands as someone else monetized my sacrifices and offered me no share of the pie.  Had that been the case, the joy would have likely turned to resentment.

The fact that college athletics have survived amateurism is a testament to the athlete’s love of sport, and desire to develop one’s self to the highest possible degree even though others are for all practical purposes stealing the rewards their labor has produced.  It’s way past time to call a foul and permit athletes to partake in the abundant spoils.

As to equality. Will all athletes fare the same?  No, of course not.  A doctor earns more than a nurse, but both derive income from their contributions to medicine.  A football or basketball player will earn more than a softball or volleyball player because the entertainment market places a premium on football and basketball over other sports.  Should that change in the future, earning opportunities will adjust with demand.

Bottom line—whatever a particular athlete’s earning potential—whether great or small, it’s time to stop stealing that potential by carving out college athletes as a separate class of citizens, that are required to produce if they wish to even participate in their sports, but no matter how valuable that participation might be, are excluded from the financial rewards of their endeavors.

Advocacy for Fairness in Sports is a nonprofit dedicated to investigative sports journalism.
Please help us to continue bringing the stories that no one else is reporting by making a small contribution toward our operating costs. Court documents and other research necessities can be costly, and you can be a difference-maker by helping us to meet the expenses necessary to remain ad-free and provide the coverage you’ve come to expect from Advocacy for Fairness in Sports.

Editor at Advocacy for Fairness in Sports | Website

Sheilla Dingus founded Advocacy for Fairness in Sports in October 2016, after a stint with Defenders of the Wall, a New England Patriots based blog where she dived deep into the legal aspects of Deflategate. Along the way, she observed many inequities in sports and felt a need to address some of the under-reported stories in sports law. She draws from her background as a former professional dancer, who like many of the athletes she writes about, took an early retirement due to orthopedic injuries. After a return trip to college she worked for a legal software company, with seven years as a Project Manager and Analyst. She brings her analytical skills to the table in breaking down complex lawsuits, and enjoys pursuing her longtime interest in journalism.

Permanent link to this article: