June 24, 2014

Editorial: Don't pay college athletes

The idea of paying salaries for college athletes to play sports for their schools feels wrong to most people.

It feels wrong because it opens so many unanswered questions — and unanswerable, perhaps, until it is too late.

A number of former college athletes are suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association in an anti-trust action that will have enormous ramifications on the future of college sports.

The athletes say, in effect, that the NCAA and colleges for generations have profited immensely from the efforts of the competitors while the competitors got nothing.

Well, the truth is that even the athletes admit they didn’t get anything. They got inexpensive or free education, the joy of participation and, for some, entree into the lucrative world of professional sports.

But they want more. They want a cut of the immense profits the NCAA and the colleges have been banking.

On the surface, that notion could appeal to some observers. After all, the colleges wouldn’t be able to present these wildly popular events without the players. Shouldn’t the players get something?

Well, yes, and they do. They get a free or reduced-price education, as well as the fame and adulation that springs from their roles as sports stars and campus idols.

If the court forces the colleges to actually pay salaries to the players, a host of problems will have to be solved. Many of them may have no solution.

For example, will the highly paid athletes have to go to classes, or will all pretense of college be forfeited? If they are paid hefty salaries, the relationship between the Athletic Department and the English Department will become very hazy. And where will the school’s administration come down?

What if college sports come to mirror professional sports in this way: that the highest bidder gets the best player? Will the colleges with the greatest endowments and wealthiest and most loyal alumni become the New York Yankees of university athletics? Will they win all the national championships because they can afford to “hire” the biggest stars?

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