Clegg: March Money Madness

BY CHRIS CLEGG | APRIL 10, 2015 5:00 AM

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Every March, the Division I college basketball tournament, “March Madness” as it is more commonly known, captivates an entire nation and glues sports fanatics and casual fans alike to their TV sets. Every March, millions of people watch hundreds of ads ranging from cosmetic products to insurance, and every March, the companies running theses ads, along with the NCAA, profit lucratively (to say the least) from them.

Ever since what has come to be known as the “O’Bannon Case,” in which former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, along with a litany of other former athletes, sued the NCAA, EA Sports, and the Collegiate Licensing Co. over exploiting their likenesses in a video game, the debate over student-athlete compensation has gained serious traction in the public eye.

In August 2014, the New York Times reported that O’Bannon and his constituents had won the lawsuit and universities would now be allowed to “… offer football players in the top-10 conferences and all Division I men’s basketball players trust funds that can be tapped after graduation …” This ruling, according to the Times, along with one that had come just a day prior granting major universities “a significant degree of autonomy over setting athletes’ benefits,” struck two major blows to the NCAA’s firm stance against student-athlete compensation beyond scholarships.

So, as the barriers have softened on student-athlete compensation, the question is no longer should student-athletes get paid, but rather, how should they get paid?

The ruling given by Judge Claudia Wilken on the O’Bannon case represents a very progressive idea: that it is possible for student-athletes to reap some of the spoils that they have a direct hand in creating while still having limits to prevent them from obtaining the status of, say, a professional athlete. While I do believe that student-athletes deserve more compensation from a multibillion-dollar nonprofit organization, I also stand firm in the notion that compensation in the form of direct payment is not the way to do it.

The problem with student-athletes receiving cold hard cash to spend is that there is really no way for the NCAA or even a specific university to monitor where that cash is going or how quickly a student-athlete would spend it. This becomes problematic because you can’t guarantee that an individual who receives compensation is spending it in a responsible way.

If 18-year-old me were to receive a weekly paycheck, you can almost guarantee I wouldn’t spend it on essentials such as food, books, housing, or even clothes. So, much like how Wilken’s postgraduate trust fund idea allows a controlled type of compensation, I would encourage the NCAA and its affiliate universities to explore options such as giving student-athletes a specific debit card with X amount of money on it, or maybe even an electronic app, that exclusively works with various different stores around each respective campus. This way the compensation can have an immediate effect on the student, university, and NCAA and all can be ensured that increased compensation doesn’t result in increased dissidence.

While it makes sense to me why there is so much money in college athletics, it utterly baffles me why the NCAA has taken such a hard stance on even having a conversation about changing how we compensate our student-athletes.

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