Should NCAA Athletes Be Allowed to Profit from Their Own Fame?

Daniel LockeContributor IOctober 31, 2011

Terrelle Pryor
Terrelle PryorChris Graythen/Getty Images

The NCAA currently prohibits student-athletes from selling autographs, accepting money as "gifts" and having contact with an agent without losing their "amateur" status and becoming ineligible to continue playing in NCAA games.

Speaking at a Town Hall Los Angeles meeting in February 2011, NCAA President Mark Emmert said "They are our students, so we don't pay them."  He resists the idea of paying athletes despite the fact that the NCAA recently signed a 14-year, $11-billion contract just to broadcast the men's Division I basketball tournament.

One of the issues confronting the NCAA is how to equitably pay all athletes, when most NCAA sports generate little if any net revenue for the schools.  As far as I know, only football and basketball generate a consistent profit for most NCAA schools.  

Football players and basketball players generate enormous amounts of money for their schools; that money is then parceled out to subsidize the other programs.  This makes sense—and sounds collegian—because students are helping each other get low- or no-cost education at the schools of their choosing. 

But why does the NCAA then stop students from going out and earning money on their own?

If the NCAA can profit by broadcasting a student-athlete's actions on the field, and then sell his or her jersey with a hefty margin of gross profit, why can't a student do the same?

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NCAA student-athletes should be entitled to all the rights and freedoms the rest of us have: the ability to sell autographs and get paid for appearances and endorsements.  I'm the first to admit that no one is willing to pay for my autograph or endorsement, but if they were, I'd let them.

Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain recently charged $200 a ticket minimum to attend one of their lectures on the campaign trail, and President Obama charged $7,500 for a photograph at a fund-raising dinner in California.

Yet another class of citizens, less connected and protected, is not allowed to make any money or profit from their image and likeness while serving as NCAA athletes.  If they do, they aren't allowed to compete, which dramatically decreases their chances of going pro and recouping the money they lost by participating in the NCAA.  

This is the crux of the argument:  NCAA student-athletes give up the right to make money during their college years in the hope of making money later as professionals—or simply to receive a low- or no-cost college education.  

The solution to the entire conundrum is not in paying athletes from college and university funds, but in allowing athletes to earn money on their own—whatever that market turns out to be.

Result?  NCAA competition will remain the same, and a large pool of athletes who have no chance of going pro will still be able to earn a modest amount of money in college.

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