NCAA reform would reduce exploitation of Black athletes

Filed under: Featured,Sports,Talk About Race |

I recently wrote about a new book regarding the NCAA’s alleged exploitation of black athletes, written by University of Georgia Professor Billy Hawkins.  In his recently-released book, “The New Plantation,” Hawkins goes out of his way to help us understand that the method by which the NCAA does business is not much different from the mindset of plantation owners of the old south.

The analogies used by Professor Hawkins are thought-provoking and appear to be alarmist at first glance.  After all, citizens are commonly comparing nearly every modern-day injustice to slavery in order to make a dramatic point.  But in this case, the analogies are appropriate, in large part because slavery is not a dichotomy.  Instead, it is actually a continuum, with complete freedom on one end and total servitude on the other.  One could even argue that slaves themselves were not completely devoid of freedom, since they could have always chosen to run away, buy their freedom, maim themselves or even commit suicide as a way to escape their condition.  The point of this very grim example is not to say that slavery was not entirely horrific; rather, it is to say that something does not have to be entirely horrific to be compared to slavery.

While most of us would agree that the NCAA does not enslave college athletes, we can agree that athletes are not completely free.  Their labor rights are stripped in a way that would be disallowed in almost any other industry in America, and each coach and player is expected to memorize a long list of rules and regulations that are designed to keep athletes under the control of the league itself.  Additionally, athletes are not compensated according to fair market value, but forced to allow others to earn millions from the fruits of their labor.   All the while, they are given no option other than to accept the dryly consistent payment being offered by the league, which would be a chance to go to college for free.  Nearly all free-market options are eliminated for the athlete, since universities are allowed to collude to keep from having to compete for the services of the player.  To make a long story short, the freedoms of the college athlete are stripped by a nexus of rules designed to ensure that they remain powerless.

Most of us agree that a college education can be valuable, but the education is hardly free for the college athlete, particularly those in revenue generating sports.  If the athlete doesn’t perform at the level coaches expect, the scholarship can be revoked.  If they miss a practice, get a free meal from the wrong person, or earn a single non-sanctioned cent from their own labor, they are going to lose their chance to get their “free” education.  So, not only do athletes not experience the essence of freedom in their endeavors, even the “free” stuff isn’t free at all.

The NCAA is in need of reform and that reform can be quite simple.  Given that the league will probably not fairly compensate athletes anytime soon (unless there is dramatic action taken by Congress), here are some reforms that might make the NCAA work a bit more efficiently:

1)      Engage independent oversight to ensure that athletes are being educated:  Stop allowing academic support services to be offered by the athletic department, where coaches are able to tell athletics to choose easier majors and in a position to distract athletes from their academic duties.  You can’t work an athlete to death and then say “study in your free time.”  A group that is free from the power of the athletic department should be positioned to give the athlete an opportunity to get a good education if he wants one.

2)      Hold coaches accountable when athletes don’t graduate: Does it make sense that winning coaches who don’t graduate athletes are given raises and better jobs?  Actions speak louder than words, and based on their actions, making money from sporting events is far more important to most universities than seeing the athletes educated.  In partial agreement with the recommendations of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, teams with graduation rates below 40 percent should be banned from post-season play and their coaches should be fired.

3)      Get rid of the one-year rules and age limits for players who want to go pro:  There is no reason to keep athletes out of the NBA or NFL, other than to keep them in college.  The reason to keep them in college is certainly not to graduate them, since there is no logical reason to force someone to go to college for just one year.  The reason athletes are kept in college is so the NCAA can shamelessly earn a few million dollars off the back of the next LeBron James.  The Justice Department should step in and put a stop to this form of collusion between the NCAA and NBA.

4)      Give the players better insurance and a stipend:  A player earning millions for his university should not be walking around with empty pockets and weak health insurance.  The NCAA is incredibly fortunate in the fact that they are the only professional sports league that can get away with paying their employees just a few thousand dollars per year.  In a truly capitalist society, Reggie Bush would have earned over $10 million per year playing for USC.  Instead, the university and Pete Carroll got all that money.

By making some minor modifications, the NCAA can turn some of the heat off, at least for a while.  What will happen, at some point, is that black men and the black community are going to wake up to the exploitation and stop this modern day plantation where it stands.  The NCAA needs to be seriously reformed, and it needs to happen NOW.

Photo by Streeter Lecka


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Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

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