Like every year, the nation has spent the last month captivated by the NCAA basketball tournament. In addition to showcasing the nationâ€™s top basketball talent, the tournament also exposes us to one of the most unconscionable economic arrangements in American history: the failure to pay college athletes.
Every year, the NCAA finds new ways to extract economic value from the sweat of its athletes. From shoe deals to video game licensing to television contracts, the labor of college athletes generates billions of dollars every year for TV networks, schools, coaches, apparel companies, hotels, airlines and countless other entities that do not have to lace up sneakers, miss class, or risk injury. In fact, the only people who do not benefit from the ever-expanding â€œathletic industrial complexâ€ are the athletes themselves.
The primary argument against payment has been that they are student athletes who are being rewarded with a full ride to college. If tainted by money, proponents argue, collegians will lose their innocence and be hastily hurled into the dark world of profit-making. Like any effective pimp, the NCAA pretends to protect its athletes from the harsh realities of the â€œreal worldâ€ while exploiting them in the most extravagant ways imaginable.
While the romantic notion of the â€œstudent-athleteâ€ may have been authentic 50 years ago, todayâ€™s college player is markedly different. Todayâ€™s athlete is expected to practice 4-6 hours a day, work out 12 months out of the year, and miss out on many of the personal, social, and intellectual experiences that color our idyllic memories of college. In nearly every way, todayâ€™s college player is much more like an overworked semi-professional than an amateur student in need of protection from corporate bloodsuckers.