Recently a University of Florida Football player named Jalen Tabor said he was sorry for an offensive tweet. “The SEC made $527.4 million in total revenue and players ain’t get a penny. Modern form of slavery.” Jalen expressed regret for comparing his situation to slavery, and he probably also should have apologized for his abysmal grammar as well.
But as a conservative who firmly believes in free will and the Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness, I’m convinced that the current system is willfully and knowingly taking advantage of a small number of elite collegiate athletes, primarily those who participate in college basketball and football.
For the majority, getting a full ride college scholarship is a dream come true. Not only is your tuition taken care of, but you receive all the benefits that come with advanced learning. The San Francisco Federal Reserve in 2014 estimated that a college graduate will earn $800,000 more than those who do not have a college diploma. Assuming of course elite athletes graduate from college, this makes the athletic scholarship at first blush akin to winning the lottery. However, if you review last year’s NBA draft it becomes clear that this is a big assumption. Only one of the first 18 players drafted was a college senior. Most basketball players drafted with prime picks are usually freshman and sophomores, making it evident that for many elite college athletes, going to college is just a pathway to play professional ball, not a pathway to higher education.
Imagine this scenario that happens all too much. You’re an elite high school basketball or football player, but you have no desire to go to college, or perhaps lack academic skills. First, it should be pointed out that there is nothing unusual or shameful about not going to college. According to the New York Times, approximately 35% of high school graduates make this decision each year. But if you’re an elite athlete and you’d rather try your luck playing professional basketball or football, you’re stuck. The NBA, NFL, and the NCAA have ginned the system in their favor, as it is nearly impossible to sign directly with an NBA or NFL team after high school. Whether you want to or not, and whether you are qualified or not, you have no choice but to head to college.
Stop for a moment to contemplate what a crazy system this is. Playing professional sports doesn’t need a special educational requirement that a college degree can offer, like say being a doctor, lawyer, or CPA. This would be like comedy clubs and movie studios requiring wannabe stand up comedians and actors to enter college before they were eligible to participate in an open mic night at a club or to act professionally.
While the elite players’ labor helps the NCAA garner millions of dollars worth of revenue, the player gets none. All the while, the elite athlete bears the risks of having a career ending injury or having his market value slip while he is being forced to play as an amateur. The NBA and the NFL make out like bandits in this process, as college athletics serves as a de facto minor league system, sparing the leagues development and operational costs. Everyone makes out financially from this arrangement except the elite player, whose talent is the fuel that rockets the money machine known as big time college athletics.
It is the nanny state mentality that keeps the status quo in place. For example, one of the main arguments for keeping the current system is that it is in the athletes’ best interest to go to college, as this will help them mature before heading into the rough and tumble world of professional sports and will also give them an education as a fallback plan. They also argue the players are compensated adequately with the scholarship. But what right do we have to decide that for others? Shouldn’t it be left for the individual to decide his own fate? Do we now take it for granted that governments, schools, institutions, big business, and “experts” are well within their parameters to decide how the citizenry can live its life?
It is beyond time both the NFL and NBA follow what Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have been doing for years and establish a true minor league system that frees gifted players who don’t want to go to college the opportunity to play, develop, and get compensated for their services. Short of that, the NCAA needs a way to compensate the elite collegiate athlete for the skill and labor they are providing.