NCAA Amateurism no longer applies

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Author: Joe Siegal

As a new college football season kicks off, scandals involving big-time programs and players are adding to the never-ending parade of highly publicized off-the-field controversies around the sport. These unsurprising transgressions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) rules show that the governing body’s flawed laws represent a meager attempt to protect the antiquated ideal of pure amateurism in lucrative Division I sports.

From the Olympics to NCAA sports, amateur athletes are held up as paragons of pure competitive nature and discipline because they’re not “in it for the money.” While the Olympics eventually acquiesced to a changing culture by allowing professional athletes to participate, the NCAA has stuck to its guns and preserved its amateur rules.

Despite the massive economic gains involved for the top teams, football programs evade the NCAA’s laws to get ahead in the ultra-competitive atmosphere of the sport. Meanwhile, some athletes, including the game’s biggest stars, feel the need to do the same for their own personal benefit. Sports Illustrated rolled out an investigative report last week that exposed alleged misconduct in the Oklahoma State University football program with allegations ranging from grade changing to illegal payments and sexual encounters involving recruits and the school’s “Orange Pride” volunteer hostesses. And while the scope of the violations is wide, it seems run-of-the-mill after big programs like Miami and USC have been sanctioned in recent years.

While much of the focus is placed on the programs that get busted, outrage is also routinely focused on individual student-athletes like Texas A&M; quarterback Johnny Manziel (a.k.a. Johnny Football). The moralistic scrutiny of Manziel following his autographs-for-cash controversy this summer is similarly unsurprising, but it has brought the hypocrisy and outdated nature of the NCAA’s rules back into the national conversation.

When fans are no longer shocked that programs are systematically cheating and that student-athletes are skirting the rules to get paid, it is clear that NCAA rules no longer fit the current culture of the sports they are meant to govern. Hence, there is no longer any sense in protecting amateurism as the NCAA currently defines it.

While some players are assuredly in it for the love of the game, many involved parties have other motives.

College football in 2013 is first and foremost a marketing competition. Schools want to entice recruits to come play for their teams, attract prospective students who will pay tuition and inspire boosters to donate millions to their programs. Networks want to attract advertisers. Top players want to showcase their talents for the pros. These are hardly amateur motivations. The Bowl Championship Series’ (BCS) television contract with ESPN is worth over $470 million annually, a sign that the sport is booming.

Something in the NCAA’s ideology is broken. The players giving their all to entertain fans and win games are not compensated fairly, while all other stakeholders profit. Players like Manziel are not to blame; nor are programs like Oklahoma State. The outdated culture of amateurism and its steadfast proponents are what brought us here.

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