NCAA Benefits Rule Must Go
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 01:09
A few weeks ago, we heard of another scandal involving another high-level college athlete and the controversy over the NCAA’s “extra benefit” rule. Currently, the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving any form of extra financial gifts or compensation outside the scholarships they receive. Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winning Quarterback at Texas A&M, was being investigated by the NCAA and later suspended for exactly one-half of one game for selling his autographs. This scandal highlights the need for the NCAA to revisit the “extra benefit” rule and adopt the Olympic model allowing players to seek compensation off-campus.
The NCAA has maintained that the “extra benefit” rule is important for two reasons. The first is that these athletes are “amateurs” and to be treated like students, not paid employees of the university. The NCAA even runs ads with the slogan, “Most of us [athletes] will go pro in something other than sports” to highlight this idea, but the fact of the matter is student athletes are part of a multibillion-dollar industry yet are prevented from benefiting financially from it in any way.
The second explanation for the “extra benefit” rule is that if student-athletes were allowed to receive compensation, then it would give schools with better financial resources a competitive edge over smaller schools as they can shell out more money to student athletes. This would give those schools an advantage in recruiting top players, supporters of the rule argue. In reality, though, this is already the case as wealthier schools can afford better coaching and facilities. Additionally, they have more media exposure, which also improves their ability to recruit top players.
Big-time college sports have become more “big business” than amateur competition. Athletics, on many college campuses, have grown to become multimillion-dollar systems. Schools are constructing ornate athletic facilities that rival those at the professional level. Conference realignment has brought together schools that do not share geographic proximity or historical tradition because it makes for the most lucrative television deals, and coaches on many campuses (including Georgetown’s) are the highest-paid employees. Even though athletes like Manziel are given a college education for free, considering the amount of money they are bringing to the school, a free tuition is pennies on the dollar and both the schools and the NCAA know this.
The irony of the whole Johnny Manziel situation is that the same week the NCAA was investigating Manziel, Texas A&M sold a dinner with Manziel to a group of boosters for $20,000 for its 12th Man Foundation, which helps raise money for the school’s athletic department. The NCAA allows universities to benefit financially from players, yet if the player sought any financial compensation of his own he would be ineligible to play under current rules.
This system is unfair to players and borders on exploitative. The NCAA should adopt the rule followed by Olympic athletes that stipulates that athletes are not paid for their participation, but can make money off their own name through endorsements, autograph signings and other activities. Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin are not paid for their efforts on Team USA, but can receive endorsement deals from Nike or paid for public appearances and the same should go for college athletes like Manziel.
Players do not need to receive a check from their school, but considering how commercialized college sports have become it would not hurt the integrity of the game if, for example, each player of the Georgetown Basketball team were to receive a check from Nike for wearing their shoes on the court.
The NCAA has already seen the commercialization of college sports and including players in that process is the only fair way for the NCAA to operate. The NCAA should follow the Olympic model and allow athletes to profit from their own name, treat its athletes as employees of the university, or radically redefine college athletics to competitive amateurism. Such a move would reduce the scale of the current system, and since I do not see a future where Ohio State would want to become Holy Cross, the first option is the fairest way forward.
Johnny Manziel may have only received a petty suspension, but hopefully his case serves as a wake-up call to the NCAA to change its position on the “extra benefit” rule.
Nabeel Zewail is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Beyond the Field appears every Tuesday.