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More on the Indefensibility of the NCAA Cartel

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Pierce’s follow-up to the must-read Taylor Branch article is, of course, outstanding. The first key point is that amateurism is an empty fraud, a transparent mask for exploitation and class privilege, that I’ll take seriously as soon as coaches and administrators work on a volunteer basis. The second concerns the issue of ancillary revenues:

The counterargument, of course, is that athletes are “compensated” by the scholarships they are granted to the universities they attend. In a time in which the middle class is being squeezed, and a college education is pricing itself out of the reach of thousands of families, this argument gains a certain amount of power. However, let’s accept it on its face for the moment. You can say that the university is entitled to the gate receipts from its games based on the value of the scholarships it grants to its players, and I might even grant you that, at which point I will lie down until this feeling passes.

But the ancillary income — television revenues, the sale of jerseys and other gear, the use of a player’s “likeness” in video games, and on and on — completely overwhelms the equation and makes the relationship inequitable. The Southeastern Conference made over a billion dollars last year. The Big 10 made $905 million. These people may have a moral right to their ticket sales based on the scholarships they provide, but they don’t have a moral right to every last nickel they can squeeze out of their labor force. That’s absurd. It’s un-American. And it cannot last.

Exactly right. Even if we assume arguendo that scholarships represent adequate direct compensation, I’ve never heard a remotely decent argument for why players should be denied their fair share of merchandise revenues, be prevented from taking gifts, etc. As I’ve said before, this is represents not some longstanding academic tradition but a unique burden placed on athletes. We don’t prevent journalism students from selling stories or music students from taking gigs, and we don’t do this because it wouldn’t make any sense to do that. These grotesquely unfair rules can’t be ended soon enough, and if it takes a lawsuit so be it.

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