The late John Thompson advocates for paying NCAA players in his forthcoming posthumous biography:
College sports has a lot of hypocrisy. I believe it’s time for the N.C.A.A. to stop pretending that education is its top priority and pay college athletes.
Universities are supposed to be educational institutions, but for too many of them, their self-worth is tied to winning. When you win, you make more TV money. The school receives more alumni donations and student applications. Local businesses fill up with more customers. Enrollment increases, which brings more revenue.
The N.C.A.A. is run by universities, so it has a conflict of interest between education and money. We all know how that conflict turns out. I once spoke to a meeting of athletic directors and told them, “All you administrators preach education, but you vote money. When it’s time to make rules, you vote for the rules that will make everybody the most money.” I’m not saying that voting money is bad. I’m saying let’s call it what it is. Capitalism is the system we operate in. College basketball is subject to the laws of supply and demand.
The amateurism of big-time college sports is antiquated and needs to be redefined. We shouldn’t act like going to college is a religious experience for everybody. The best basketball players right now are not going to college for an education. They are going to college for less than a year to make millions in the pros, which can be a smart decision. Pretty soon, very few of the best players will attend college at all. Most of them will go straight to the N.B.A., the G League or overseas — or just stay home and work out.
It’s amazing how long the idea that it’s fine for everybody to make as much money as possible out of college athletics except for the players themselves who shouldn’t be allowed to make anything has survived despite its transparent indefensibility — hierarchy is a hell of a drug! — but the cracks finally seem to be happening.