I don't have much respect or sympathy for the NCAA and the troubled situation that they are in, but I do understand that they are dealing with a format and situation that could not be more complicated and greatly changed in a not so great amount of time. Anyone who has ever worked at a large company should know that the last thing people, and institutions, are capable of doing, is changing, especially if there isn't really any money in it for them, and the NCAA is definitely amongst that group.
However, the more and more that the issue of paying or not paying college athletes enters the national conversation, the more and more the NCAA will continue to be painted as a indefensible monster. While I tend to agree with this to an extent, one-sided and misinformed opinions formed by people who have never spent more than an hour caring or examining college sports are getting ready to be cued up all over the national media, and sparked by an incredibly uninformed, out-of-sports-touch rant on The Daily Show, I plead for those who don't follow college sports closely to sit this one out, or actually examine what is going on underneath the surface with the issue. For example, taking it with a grain of salt when a player wearing headphones worth several hundred dollars claims to go to bed hungry and when their article articles like this one out there.
No arguments are as simple as they are boiled down to in many ways and this issue might be the most complicated of any that I have ever seen in college sports. Arguing the overall issue is tricky, so I generally try to do it one piece at a time, since I think most true college sports fan will fall all along the map on specific issues within the debate as opposed to demonizing the NCAA or claiming that everything needs to stay exactly the same.
So here is the one issue I would like to tackle and the one point that I can't believe has taken so long to be addressed and am surprised that comes up so little in the debate. The NCAA needs to give athletes the right to monetize their individual image as soon as possible. Not only is it long overdue, the inability to do it already led to the NCAA losing lawsuits. The most important improvement it would make would also help address what I see as the biggest unfair aspect of college sports for athletes in how it affects star athletes.
The NCAA and individual colleges got themselves into well-deserved hot water when they started making money off of the likenesses of players. When the NCAA started getting money from college sports games or selling jerseys in the numbers of the current most-popular players on teams, it took a foolish step over-the-line. It is was what ultimately ended up making them lose a battle that was the most-notable thing that Ed O'Bannon had done since the 1995 Final Four and it brought massive attention to their hypocrisy.
What I am proposing is that the NCAA allows players to take advantage of these opportunities. The NCAA can sell their product to a gaming company, but they are going to have to pay those players who will be depicted in a game. Along with this, players would be free to pursue their own personal financial opportunities if they can. If a dozen companies want to hire Johnny Manziel to be their spokesman, or a local pizza place in a small town in North Dakota wants to pay a back-up long snapper for Nebraska to be in their newspaper ads, they can.
Of all the unfair aspects of the current landscape of big time college sports, the amount of money that the true stars of the sports miss out on is the biggest one. For the most part, I believe that the average college football player is getting a good deal in college football and the vast, vast, vast minority of college sports stars are getting an incredibly raw deal. Where as a back-up tight end for a big program probably is getting good deal not just on the opportunity for a free education, but the opportunity to get free room and board, someone like Manziel or Jameis Winston or Andrew Luck who are household names in college, are missing out on millions during their brief tenures in school.
However, if these stars are allowed to monetize their likenesses during their time in college, this can be made up for and players who aren't superstars would have the chance to grab some more change themselves, and that would be good for everybody involved.