Progressives in the sports media are among the strongest advocates of pay for college athletes. The New York Times has advocated for it. So has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (in an article in The Guardian), and so have Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe of Fox Sports 1. After Monday's national championship football game, USA Today's Nancy Armour (in photo) suggests the NCAA either gets with the pay for play times or a judge may it do it for the organization that governs university sports in the U.S.
Armour writes that colleges are exploiting their athletes, and she predicts Clemson's star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who led the Tigers to a 44-16 victory over Alabama, will be the NCAA's undoing in its opposition to athletes' pay for play:
"The drumbeat for college athletes getting paid in some fashion has gotten louder in recent years, and it’s about to become a roar with Lawrence. For the next three years, every game Clemson plays, every spectacular play Lawrence makes will be a reminder that while the adults in the NCAA system are getting rich, the kids who make it all possible are not."
A story by Bleacher Report's Zach Dirlam refutes that. He wrote that in a recent year only 22 university athletic departments were turning profits.
Nevertheless, Armour says even the opponents of pay for play can't be comfortable with Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney earning $6 million a year "while his telegenic quarterback can’t even get royalties from the No. 16 jerseys that will become a staple in the wardrobe of every Tigers fan."
Lawrence, she predicts, will make it impossible to ignore the inequity of the current NCAA system. As the quarterback and the face of Clemson football, she says he must be rewarded financially. Even though he signed a document accepting Clemson's offer of a free education in exchange for agreeing to play for the Tigers' football team.
In Armour's world, college athletes would be in need of financial advisers as much as coaches, because they would be professional athletes:
"Allow players to profit off their names, images and likenesses. Give players an annuity, based on the number of years they play, and allow them to collect it when they’re, say, 30. Make their scholarships open-ended and transferable so they can go to graduate school – or get a degree they might actually use – even after their eligibility has been exhausted."
The nonprofit NCAA rejects such ideas, but Armour says it either adjusts to the times or a judge will dictate pay for play. She could be right, as there are likely activist judges willing to write such regulations from the bench. That's the progressive way: if you can't legislate something, shop for a judge who will hand it to you.
Armour knows this would make opponents of pay for play very unhappy. "The so-called purists will howl about amateurism and destroying the wholesome environment of college athletics. Please. Those days went out the window when bowl games began selling naming rights and schools started building athletic facilities that rival the Taj Mahal. College athletics is a business, and a big one at that. It’s time the players get a piece of the pie."
Not only are athletes getting free college education, they are also getting excellent medical care and all-expenses paid travel. Payola could increase the number of athletic department scandals and misuse of public funds. Only the top-tier universities are earning profits now in the current system of amateurism, and paying salaries to hundreds of scholarship athletes would be a huge financial burden to most colleges and universities.