Back in the day I was like most my (advanced) age. We clung to the romantic idea of amateurism. We argued for it to remain in place, especially regarding college athletics.
Then one day I was kidding a coach. We were going back and forth (“Mitch, most people move on after they learn to write,” he said. “I get it,” I said, “like we move on after learning to play games.”)
I also remember teasing him about making money while college kids do all the work for him.
“Good businessman,” he said with a wink.
I began letting loose of that romantic idea of amateurism. (By the way, did you know the word amateur derives from the Latin word “amator” or lover? It’s fitting – someone who pursues not for money, but love.)
Of course, as a glass-half-full guy, I’ve always looked down on those paying players before the Name, Image and Likeness floodgates opened. To say I was naïve on how widespread the under-the-table payments were is being kind. I try to see the best in people.
Everything regarding college athletics, however, is changed. I truly believe no one, not even administrators at universities, truly grasp all the in’s and out’s. And much of that is because of the legal wrangling that’s gone on for years.
So, in a Hail Mary to try and address the chaos, NCAA president Charlie Baker on Tuesday sent a letter to Division I members.
According to a USA Today story, it proposes “the creation of a new competitive subdivision whose schools would be required to provide significantly greater compensation for their athletes than current association rules allow.
“Under Baker’s plan, ‘within the framework’ of Title IX, the federal gender-equity law, schools in this new group would have to ‘invest at least $30,000 per year into an enhanced educational trust fund for at least half of the institution’s eligible student-athletes.’
“Baker’s proposal also involves the schools in the new group committing to work together to ‘create rules that may differ from the rules in place for the rest of Division I. Those rules could include a wide range of policies, such as scholarship commitment and roster size, recruitment, transfers or’ policies connected to athletes’ activities making money from their name, image and likeness (NIL).”
We’re talking about a new tier, folks. And two thoughts immediately came to mind.
First, Baker is trying desperately to save his job, his own skin. If you remember correctly, Mark Emmert, the previous NCAA president, was basically pushed out after trying to doggie paddle through the rising tide of issues.
Baker is trying to pull a Brett Yormark, the progressive Big 12 commissioner. But Baker is also – smartly? — playing to the power brokers.
Second, he’s obviously trying to stem the tide of antitrust lawsuits and pressure from Congress, including that from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
It brings up questions to me like: Would this prevent such lawsuits?; Would this move NIL to the schools?; Might there be future collective bargaining?.
My biggest take, though, is those “power brokers” of which I speak would be more powerful. They would be able to steer their own ship. And that ship would be steered away from the “have nots.”
Here is one of Baker’s talking points in his letter:
The proposal would give “the educational institutions with the most visibility, the most financial resources and the biggest brands an opportunity to choose to operate with a different set of rules that more accurately reflect their scale and their operating model.”
The pretty well lays it bare before all. The gap will grow and grow. Words that come to mind are Premier League in soccer. Promotion. And, certainly, relegation.
Would a school like WVU be able to hang? $30,000 per athlete for half the athletes? One would hope, especially after the latest Big 12 TV agreement.
Whatever the case, we’re a long way from the days of (supposed, but not really) pure amateurism.
The athletes putting in the work – not just the million-dollar coaches, etc. – are being rewarded.
The rich are getting richer.
And they’re building their own club right before our eyes.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.