DESPITE EFFORTS to maintain an illusion of amateurism, the reality of commercialism in college athletics is unambiguous and overwhelming. Television broadcast revenues of college sports have soared to nearly $2 billion a year, CNBC has reported. CBS and Turner Broadcasting have agreed to pay $10.8 billion to lock up more than a decade of broadcast rights to just the March Madness men’s basketball tournament. Yet the college players whom everyone tunes in to watch essentially don’t make a dime. It’s long past time for that to change.
For decades, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has artificially restricted compensation to a labor force — athletes — that generates billions in revenue while redirecting profits to athletic departments. The athletes aren’t paid because the NCAA has randomly defined what it means to be an amateur: They can accept certain things, like tuition, but not others, like royalties from jersey sales. You’re an amateur because you aren’t paid. You’re not paid because you’re an amateur. That’s the essence of the argument, and it’s looking increasingly hypocritical.