Tate | Should college players be paid?


Tate | Should college players be paid?

When Title IX was enacted as part of the U.S. Education Amendments Act of 1972, it stated that "no person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded or discriminated against by any education program receiving federal financial assistance."

For previous decades leading up to that 1972 decision, women had fought for a level of sports equality, and Title IX mandated a magical leap forward.

It was overdue.

And when some male administrators asked for football, with its 85 scholarships — in a sport where women don't participate — to be excluded from the roughly 50-50 participation equation, that good-sense quest was rejected.

Thus some non-revenue college sports for men — notably baseball at Wisconsin, track at Northwestern — were unfortunately dropped to meet the requirement. Illinois cut out fencing and swimming. Men's sports were unnecessarily diminished.

I view this as an example of failed decision-making, an unwillingness to compromise. A fair person would accept that football never belonged in that equation. Reasonable people make exceptions within laws. That's why we have amendments to the Constitution.

But women leaders had fought too hard and been denied too long for them to concede an inch, much less a mile, on a federally-settled issue. And so it stands.

The two cash cows

Nearly a half-century later, a nagging basketball-football problem has hit the same Title IX roadblock. Benefits for athletes must be distributed equally between what we now describe as "earners and non-earners."

In all fairness, the collegians bringing home the bacon deserve a bigger piece of the ever-expanding pie. There is no reasonable argument against that. Even at a university like Illinois, where the two revenue sports have struggled, football and basketball are responsible for the roughly $50 million that the department expects to receive from TV revenue in the coming school year.

All across the country, including non-football schools like Villanova, Marquette and Wichita State, vast amounts are generated by a tiny few for the benefit of all.

What to do? What's wrong with the Olympic system? Wasn't the U.S. Olympic committee able to work around "phony amateurism" by allowing athletes — men and women — to profit off their names and images? Aren't exceptions acceptable for most rules?

But wait a minute. Are we descending onto a slippery slope by allowing athletes to profit off endorsements, individual deals or signing autographs? Isn't it a bridge too far to have star athletes on business payrolls?

Future protests?

The nation's collegiate basketball players, feeling slighted, are becoming increasingly engaged in this controversy. And if the top teams ever get together, a rumbling volcano could erupt.

Former Wisconsin star Nigel Hayes, who is even now involved in litigation challenging the system, indicated that Badger players considered boycotting an ESPN home game against Syracuse early in the 2016-17 season.

A ringleader in the proposal, Hayes believed that 90 percent of the players agreed that they deserved something more than tuition, room, board and a stipend. But they decided not to go through with it unless everyone agreed.

As an aside, this rebellious nature (actually, is it self-preservation?) reared its head in football where we've seen stars like LSU's Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey withdraw from bowl games to protect their value. But, in basketball, there have been nothing of that nature, and no boycotts ... yet.

Follow the money

We are mimicking ostriches if we don't think a player boycott is possible.

As you can see by their actions — 181 players entered their names in the NBA system — these athletes want to profit monetarily from their skills. College basketball is a landscape of unhappiness. Players are transferring by the hundreds. And they are aware what their coaches are earning on the basis of their labors.

If you're watching, you see a business model changing dramatically right before your eyes. Latest surprise — shocking Jim Boeheim — was the decision of Syracuse recruit Darius Bazley to choose the G-League over college.

This "minor league" has ballooned from eight members in 2002 to a projected 27 next season, nearing a goal of all 30 NBA members owning one franchise each. Player salaries are set to jump from a high of $26,000 to $35,000 for the five-month season, an easy reach for NBA teams drawing $2.6 billion from their new TV contract.

The thinly-attended G-League is a distant runner-up to college, with all the latter advantages of exposure, fan support and meaningful transition from high school. And it is a factor in another critical decision: NBA officials deciding whether to come to the rescue of the NCAA and its one-and-done fiasco.

We are in the midst of basketball change. And the debate over amateurism vs. player payments is at the heart of it.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com