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April 19, 2015

The Madness behind NCAA's Morals

by Divya Rajagopal, Managing Editor
Every spring, the college basketball tournament fervor known as March Madness overtakes America. The National Collegiate Athletics Association, which heads this tournament, brings in TV revenues of over a billion dollars at the close of the event. However, the participating student athletes are not paid a single penny of that revenue; the players' title of "amateur" prevents their being paid. There seems to be something quite un-American about the notion that the people who are working the hardest in the tournament are also the ones who don't receive any gain. These athletes deserve monetary compensation for their hard work.

Collegiate athletes have a lot to lose by agreeing to play. The NCAA makes students sign forms declaring their amateur status and agreeing to give up any compensation for playing. Any slight violation on this contract can cost players their spots on their teams. In a horrific example a few years ago, a certain player's parents were killed in a car accident. His coach took him to lunch before sending him home to the funeral; the meal was considered a violation of his contract because the student was treated differently than other students and the player was removed from the team. Evidently, the NCAA finds no fault in using students to make extravagant profits even to the point of pressing unnecessary bureaucratic rules onto those going through emotional ordeals.

Mark Emmert, CEO of the NCAA, has some very concrete convictions on the matter of paying collegiate athletes. During his "Last Week Tonight show on HBO, John Oliver highlighted some of Emmert's stronger sentiments on the topic. Emmert feels that the key word in the term 'student athlete' is student. "There's not a salary to debate," Emmert states in an interview, "they're not employees, they're students."

Of course, Emmert finds it easy to use his seemingly logical conclusion to turn a blind eye to the inordinate amount of stress college athletes are under at school. NFL Seahawks player Richard Sherman reflects on the difficulties he dealt with as a student athlete at Stanford University. "I would love for a regular student to have a student-athlete's schedule during the season for just one quarter…and show me how you balance that," Sherman says during an interview. His teammate Michael Bennet discusses the crippling cost of injuries in collegiate sports. "Guys break their legs and they get the worst surgeries you could possibly get, they see the worst doctors, they get the worst treatment," Bennet says. "And to say that you get a degree doesn't mean anything to me."

Collegiate athletes are putting everything on the line for their schools and their teams: their health, their education and their future. Schools, on the other hand, constantly mistreat their players and turn their focus from educating their best players to making sure they bring them wins. Universities create easy-to-pass "paper classes" such as African American Studies and Swahili to boost players' grades so that they can reach the minimum GPA to play sports. These classes do not actually support players' majors or contribute to their college education: they are merely the easiest classes a university can offer and are meant to fluff up athlete's GPAs to raise them to the required minimum for playing sports. This doesn't quite corroborate with Emmert's view of what college sports do— Emmert believes that athletes are "paid in an education." That 'education' that Emmert speaks of is quite often comprised of useless classes, which lead to meaningless degrees.

Dabo Swinney, American football college coach at the University of Alabama, made 3.15 million dollars in 2014. However, Swinney is a firm believer of not paying students because their status as amateur completely eliminates any prospect of being paid for their hard work. "The notion of converting a student to a paid employee is antithetical to the principle of college athletics," Swinney states emphatically in an interview, which is highlighted in Oliver's show. To me, the antithesis of college athletics seems to be that students compromising their futures aren't earning a single buck for their sacrifices.

So I suppose the bottom line is a direct message to both the NCAA and colleges: stop robbing your athletes, both of their well-earned pay, and their education. Stop placing insurmountable amounts of pressure upon them to perform well in both school and in sports. Take a second to consider the challenges the student-athletes face on a daily basis; from career-ending injuries to potentially scholarship-losing grades. When you realize the true cost they pay every day, maybe you'll decide that they deserve even a little compensation for it.



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