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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Whitlock on the NCAA and Cunningham on Whitlock and the NCAA

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Whitlock on the NCAA and Cunningham on Whitlock and the NCAA

The contractual relationship between the NCAA and amateur athletes is the center of the sanctions imposed on USC by the NCAA.  Many, probably the majority of sports fans who have not played football or basketball at a major college, blame Bush for violating the contract.  Jason Whitlock leans into the wind blaming the exploitative nature of the contract and not Bush in “Expose the NCAA, not the athletes” an article that compares the NCAA contract to slavery and Jim Crow South based on a paragraph of Walter Byers, a former NCAA president (1951-1988) in this book, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting the Student-Athlete.”  Whitlock quotes Byers
Byers wrote: “Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”
Carson Cunningham, a historian, takes umbrage with Whitlock’s comparison in “Whitlock Wrong to Compare NCAA with Slavery” by describing some abuses of slavery including the lynching of two men, William Crawford and Sam Smith, who opposing slavery, abuses that he believes renders Whitlock’s comparison offensive. 
In the article, which would be laughable if it weren't so sadly off-base, Mr. Whitlock declared, "Reggie Bush is Kunta Kinte, a runaway slave." Seriously? The same Reggie Bush who is slated to make about $8 million this season, who recently won a Super Bowl, and who buys multi-million-dollar property? If so, I'm sure Kunta Kinte could relate, as well as Mr. Crawford and Mr. Smith.

Mr. Whitlock also said, "At some point, we can recognize that an investigative journalism award and individual career advancement do not justify pretending there is some honor in safeguarding the NCAA's plantation. ... Call me when the phony moralizing stops and we, the media, quit demonizing black kids for cashing in like white men." Ahh, race-baiting at its best. Bravo, Mr. Whitlock.

Cunningham does not blindly endorse the NCAA model noting

…it has some wonderful elements to go along with numerous flaws. But that's not the point. The point is that nothing about the NCAA model even remotely approaches slavery.
My students who enjoy sports should read both articles and decide for themselves but I found the article informative and humorous if purposefully irreverent.  I am not offended by the comparison of NCAA regulations to slavery, or the Jim Crow South just as I am not offended by comparisons of Hitler to Noriega or Franco.  The latter three were dictators who were not afraid to deprive civil rights from the citizens they governed, fix elections, intimidate political rivals, or limit the press, but only one started a world war and conducted the Holocaust. 

Whitlock’s triplet, slavery, the Jim Crow South, and the NCAA contract are are systems of economic exploitation even though the NCAA contract is involves less offensie.  The NCAA exploits the large difference between what colleges can offer a young athlete and their next best alternative, their opportunity cost.  Being grossly underpaid and attending a big name school and maintaining a chance to turn pro beats the alternative of attending a community college at the athlete’s expense or entering the low-skill job market but it isn’t fair.  Athletes should receive compensation approximating the value of what they produce; in economic terms, their wages should equal the value of their marginal product.  They don’t.


  1. Austin Anderson3/11/10 10:46 PM

    My position on the "should student-athletes be paid" argument is that they should not. Yes, football players gain alot of money for their universities, but they are still given the ultimate college life. They are basically getting a free education/degree so if they dont go pro and make the big bucks they will have something to fall back on. Also, football and basketball are not the only 2 sports played in college, there is baseball, tennis, golf, etc. Should these athletes be singled out and not given any money outside their scholarships just because their sport isnt as popular? Finally, money is not everything. There's a thing called "The Love of the Game". People forget but basketball and football are a GAME. The athletes who are good enough to play in college should be thankful for being fortunate and blessed for everything they have. Millions of people would do anything to be in the situation they are in.

  2. Jaclyn Salinas7/11/10 6:40 PM

    The topic of whether student-athletes should be paid is controversial and brings about new questions (if it was implemented) like how walk-on athletes are compensated for? Since no scholarship is offered to walk-on athletes, and they put in the same amount of time and effort, then shouldn't their input deserve something?? And wouldn't cash payments impose unsportsmanlike conduct among players and university sport programs? the issues could go on...

    When athletes accept scholarships, they are provided tuition, books, meals, and housing. At some colleges and universities, such support may reach a value of $200,000 over a four-year period. Student-athletes may also receive special treatment when it comes to academic issues, for example priority scheduling, tutoring assistance, and excused absences. Aren’t student-athletes, then, well-compensated already? Once student-athletes start receiving benefits in monetary form, they will no longer be amateur athletes. When monetary rewards are given, the athlete is then a professional. College is primarily meant for EDUCATION, not being a professional athlete. Notice that in the word "student-athlete" student comes before athlete.

    However, since student-athletes help generate millions of dollars for their schools, there must be some programs that could be implemented to cover more of student-athletes educational and living expenses. One of these plans is allowing students to accept endorsements. Another way to resolve the issue would be having professional sport leagues work with colleges and universities to offer athletes incentives to graduate before becoming professional athletes.

  3. You want to know why college sports are so much better to watch than professional sports? It is because they do not get paid. They are giving it their all day in and day out to get to the next level to make the money. Their are no strikes or sit-outs in college football. If a player misses practice then they are sitting on the bench. Sure you could compensate these players, but you would killing the tradition of college sports.

    I believe they should not receive a dime of compensation. They get scholarships and all kinds of incentives so money is not a priority for them at the moment. No one cares if they drive around a Hummer. People watch college football because it is fun. They do not watch it to see a car show, or to see who can afford the bigger daimond earrings.

    I agree with Jaclyn when she talks about the walk-on players and how they do not receive any incentives. They are out there putting in the same man hours and getting no money or scholarships for it so why should others receive scholarships and money from boosters?

  4. The NCAA had $989 million in total revenue in fiscal 2014, according to the statement. It had $908.6 million in total expenses, including $547.1 million distributed to Division I schools and conferences. That leaves 365.1 million for...salaries, travel, etc. Plus the NCAA has net assets of 665 million. There is enough money generated to give all student/athletesof all sports, (including walk ons) an specified annuity that would accrue for 4 years. They can access it only after graduation. Everyone would receive the same principle amount. If there are emergency reasons, a student/athlete could apply for a hardship withdrawal (certain number of times {4}, not over a certain amount) that would be deducted from their account. An assigned board would monitor and manage the accounts.