Jim Tressel Resigns, Brings Question of Reforming NCAA Amateurism System

Daniel ZylberkanCorrespondent IMay 31, 2011

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 30:  Head Coach Jim Tressel speaks to the media during a press conference before the start of Spring practices at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at The Ohio State University on March 30, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Jim Tressel has resigned his post as the head coach of Ohio State University.

In a way, we all had to see this coming, after the Tattoo-gate story broke last December, we all knew there was something funny going on with the Buckeye football program. Their biggest stars had done something that was against the rules of the university and the athletic department—and most importantly—the coach had no idea what was going on.

This has become a pattern for all of the top programs in college football for a long time, since the allegations were made against Reggie Bush after he graduated. The problem was echoed by the situation surrounding Cam Newton's recruiting to play at Auburn, and now, has culminated with further allegations against Ohio State that have forced Tressel to resign.

People are aware of the problems surrounding college football and the NCAA in general. Matt Parker and Trey Stone, in last week's episode of South Park, did an amazing job at illustrating some of the points that will be made in this article—as the only responsible way of assuring that the integrity of college football can be maintained as money and dirty deals have become more and more prevalent in recent years.

There are two major issues that will be discussed—amateurism and the current exploitative relationship between the student-athletes, the NCAA and the educational institutions along with the NFL's role in creating and in possibly perpetuating the problem.

Amateurism as a prerequisite for being a student-athlete is a myth—scholarships are equivalent to payment. Except that scholarships aren't directly paid to the athlete and are used to maintain their supposed status as student first.

Finally, the NFL's and NFLPA's role in creating this situation is important—was expressed in their last and now expired collective bargaining agreement—that players must be three years out of high school for them to be eligible to enter the NFL draft.

The entire concept of "amateur" is interesting and something that feels like the NCAA and its member institutions now use as an inherently exploitative construct in which the student athletes do all of the work but receive no part of their labor.

In classically Marxian terms, the fruit of their labor is alienated from the student-athletes, especially in major-level football and basketball. The universities, the NCAA, the networks, the advertisers and the retail outlets all make massive amounts of money on the backs of student-athletes who don't see one penny of their work in order to make their lives better—especially outside of the classroom.

Marx's answer to what he saw as the inherent problem of capitalism was for "labor to control the modes of production." In this case, the NCAA and the university administrators are the capitalists, management, if you will, the bourgeoisie that currently control the modes of production. 

The student-athletes, as labor, must come together and have a say in how the methods of production are used. This only leads to one logical conclusion—only through unionizing can the student-athletes hope to alter the current construction of the mode of production.

If student-athletes are represented by a union and no longer as amateurs, they will be able to change the current system much as workers did in the industrialized world throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Labor unions were able to assure benefits and rights to workers that are taken for granted now such as: the 40-hour work week, old age pensions, overtime pay, worker's compensation, child labor laws and many other worker protections including paid vacation leave. These accomplishments illustrate the success of the labor movement for the welfare of workers.

What would be some reasonable demands that student-athletes could make in order to better both their and their families' well-being?

Payment for fair work would be a beginning; the amount is up to discussion and something that will not be discussed here. But some sort of "minimum wage" like system would be ideal.

The NCAA currently has insurance to protect what they call "Exceptional Student-Athletes" in the Big Four sports and Women's Basketball from lost income resulting from catastrophic injuries. This proves that the NCAA is currently nothing more than a factory for creating talent for the professional sports. Universal, free and mandatory, injury and health insurance to all athletes and their dependents should be a part of the collective bargaining agreement.

Second, the role that the NFL plays in influencing the NCAA's behavior can't be underestimated. One example is the three-year rule, which says that players must be three years out of high school in order to enter the NFL draft.

But as a result of professionalization, legal ramifications and the time-tacit monetization of college football, the NFL will have an even larger interest in ensuring that college football doesn't replace or diminish its own role in the American sports landscape. Partnership between the two organizations will be mutually beneficial and good for football.

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Signage is displayed at the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Imag
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The transformation of the NCAA into minor league football, which would be mutually beneficial for all parties, could be done by instituting three major reforms. First, rules standardization between both leagues. Secondly, the replacing of the BCS with a playoff system, and finally, reforms to the NFL draft and associated recruiting activities by the NFL, such as the combine, pro days and NCAA FBS All-Star games. All reforms would cohesively work in an effort to normalize recruiting behaviors and the role of agents and the remaining presence of illicit money in college football.

The ending of the charade of amateurism and a deepening of the relationship between the NFL and the NCAA is sure to be a good thing for football in general, the student-athletes and their families. If something is illegal, it creates crime where there is none—the ending of amateurism will bring an end to shady deals.

A closer relationship between the NFL and the NCAA will minimize the role that agents play in the lives of college football stars as a result of the joint NFL-NCAA recruiting system.