People respond to incentives and college athletics is riddled with perverse incentives which are caused by the NCAA requirement that athletes be amateurs. The NCAA rules state that
Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.College athletics is a multibillion dollar industry that rivals the NFL, NBA and MLB in revenues. Unlike the other sports industries, the NCAA is tax exempt because of the amateur status of its athletes. The NCAA and the universities it represents profit from the low wages and tax exempt status maintained by a strict definition of amateurism. I believe that it is the desire to protect its tax exempt status and not concern for athletes that motivates their actions and to do this they have brilliantly convinced sports consumers that denying athletes in high profit sports nearly all the gains from their activities is moral. No other students are denied profit from their education while they are in college.
NCAA rules have a socioeconomic and racial component. Title IX, an affirmative action law designed to increase women's educational opportunities, has forced universities to better fund women's athletic programs to give female athletes the same educational opportunities as male athletes. Universities have chosen to fund these programs largely with moneys earned by profitable college sports. Minority athletes from poor households are over represented in football and basketball, the most profitable sports. Because their wages are capped, the revenues that would be used to provide wages commensurate with their contribution to the team's profits are used to subsidize predominately non-minority athletes from wealthier households who compete in less profitable sports.
Reading the findings on Reggie Bush made me feel dirty, not because of his actions or the action of his family, primarily his step-father, but because of the unwarranted intrusion on his family's financial affairs (see the report here). Apparently, Bush grew up in a family that popular jargon would deem "working poor." As Bush's star was rising, the family had accumulated credit card debt and was having problems paying rent. If the NCAA is right, given the paucity of documentation and the credibility of their two primary accusers who are both felons, this is a big if, his step-father and then Bush himself took modest payments based on his future career earnings as an NFL player. The money borrowed by the family was used to pay rent and credit card bills, and to attend Bush's football games. The money borrowed by was used to make a $4,000 down payment to buy 96 Impala valued at $19,000. Nowhere do the findings show that the NCAA was concerned for the financial strain on Bush and his family created by their rule of amateurism.
The NCAA has concluded that USC was somehow responsible for knowing that the Bush's parents could not afford their new rental home and that Bush could not afford the Impala. I believe that a black family can improve their financial well being sufficiently to afford to rent a nicer but still modest home and buy their son a relatively inexpensive car without raising red flags. The NCAA apparently believes that it is USC's responsibility to monitor the financial activities of all athletes and their families. As an educator and former student, I am dumbfounded by the statement that, "participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental, and social benefits to be derived." I love learning and always have but I went to college because I thought that it would increase my lifetime earnings. I teach students who are attempting to do the same. It is preposterous to force athletes to follow a standard of amateurism that everybody who can avoid that standard does.
The NCAA rules continue, "student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises. According to the Free Dictionary, exploitation is the "utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes." The NCAA's rules on amateurism keep the honest agents at arms length until the athlete decides to turn pro, abandoning them to the least honest agents who don't mind dealing in shadows. Can the NCAA explain how its rules don't exploit high value athletes or how allowing these athletes to tap into future incomes is exploitation? Perhaps Bush would have been free to enjoy the "physical, mental and social benefits" of football knowing that his family was more financially secure and he was the cause. The NCAA's outdated definition of amateurism should be on trial and not USC's athletes and not USC.