As NCAA bickers over how much student benefits are enough, and coaches make millions, student-athletes fight food insecurity and some go homeless.
On Thursday, March Madness returns — a small but real step toward making America normal again. This same month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could serve as a catalyst to reshape college sports.
The legal question in the court’s case sounds abstract: Did the superpower that runs college athletics, the NCAA, violate federal law by restricting benefits for college athletes?
But the two of us, an ex-Alabama politician who practices employment rights law and a public affairs consultant with Georgia roots, know the hardship of college athletes, especially in the South (where college sports dominate the pros in so many ways). Many students struggle to afford a plane ticket home while making plenty of money for their colleges and their coaches. They should be allowed to benefit financially from their association with sports and position themselves for future success. . .
College sports is partly built on exploitative and arbitrary NCAA rules that prevent college athletes from having an equity interest in Division I football and basketball — despite the risks and grueling demands of playing big-time sports. College sports is a $19 billion industry, but the revenue creators — the student-athletes — lose eligibility to play if they receive any financial benefit based on their status as an athlete, such as pay for endorsements or appearances. . .
No matter what the Supreme Court decides, federal lawmakers can set things right by passing bipartisan legislation to preserve the best of college sports while empowering college athletes.
Promising policy ideas are emerging. Several democrats in the House and the Senate have proposed, among other things, revenue sharing for college athletes. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has offered a narrower reform focused on name, image and likeness compensation.
Neither approach has the votes to pass, and they both seem centered on the biggest brand name teams and players. Women’s sports and college programs outside the Power Five won’t fare well under either option.
We think something more creative is needed to ensure athletes are included in the financial rewards of their billion dollar industry. While we agree with two-thirds of Americans who support letting college athletes earn product endorsement money, the biggest beneficiaries would be a small number of superstars.
A more inclusive reform would allow college athletes to begin building their economic future while they are in school the time-tested way, through jobs and connections with corporate America. For instance, college athletes deserve the chance to trade sponsorship and promotional ties with businesses for job training and apprenticeship opportunities. . .
Freeing athletes to be entrepreneurial turns the scales on defenders of the status quo who claim that banning outside income protects the interests of small schools that can’t compete with the cash cows in Athens, Clemson and Tuscaloosa.
The full op-ed can be found here.