Amateurism: A Principle Accepted Only By Amateurs


“Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority.”  The NCAA, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has long used the concept of “amateurism” as its reason for not compensating college athletes.  It claims that college athletes are students first and athletes second, and that compensating the athletes would prohibit them from “obtaining a quality educational experience.”  However, in recent years there has been much debate about the validity of this claim and whether or not amateurism is truly in the best interest of the students and not the schools they attend.  

In short, amateurism allows schools to pay their student athletes in the form of tuition, books, and room and board fees, which essentially is a price-fixing agreement.  Last April, four athletes filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and the attorney representing them claimed that schools are generating “billions of dollars in revenues each year through the hard work, sweat and sometimes broken bodies of top-tier college football and men’s basketball athletes.”  Many argue that college football and basketball are already pro sports for everyone but the athletes.  By restricting labor costs, universities are able to reap the benefits of a massive market without having to pay the normal associated costs.

Another issue here is that the athletes have no bargaining power.  Many of them are simply grateful for being provided such an “opportunity.”  So, is amateurism a valid principle in the world of college athletics, or is it in reality a lie told by universities to control their athletes and exploit them?

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7 thoughts on “Amateurism: A Principle Accepted Only By Amateurs”

  1. If athletes are so concerned about making money, they have the right to forgo college and join the pros right off the bat and feel free to profit from the sport they play in any way imaginable. Also, the number of athletes that generate significant revenues from playing sports in the first place is a minuscule, and most of them will go on to play professionally anyway – so why not just have them wait?

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  2. Every single basketball player that participates in March Madness generates revenue–is that a minuscule amount? Also, out of the eight million that participate in NCAA sports, only about 460,000 of them make it to the pros–I wouldn’t say most of them make it. It’s not even the athletes I’m most concerned about–it’s the fact that universities promote the idea of “amateurism” to the public just so they can restrict the labor costs and profit more. It’s about transparency.

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  3. A concern I would have with this is where the line gets drawn. Not all schools draw as much athletic attention as others, and not all sports at any one school have the same appeal. Would all NCAA schools need to offer contracts to athletes or would only larger schools? Would past athletic performance of the school have an impact? I agree with the idea that athletic compensation needs to be transparent. Perhaps knowing what each school is giving to their players would be beneficial and evolve into a larger debate for contracts in college. Overall, this is an interesting concept to debate.

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  4. The case hasn’t been settle yet–it is simply filed. Kessler, the attorney, is seeking an injunction that would prevent the NCAA and other conferences from limiting the amount of financial aid that can be awarded to each player.

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  5. I think one ethical perspective is justice. Would Nozick agree this is a fair initial distribution and transfer? If not , why not? Or you could look at other theories of justice or fairness. The Walzer article might be interesting in terms of different spheres. You need to read ahead as it is for Monday.

    A kind of semi-veil of ignorance is to imagine this labor relationship in any other context. Because of education and amateurism, it is treated as different. Now the NCAA, I assume, has some good argument for why it is this way. Or maybe they don’t and they just say “well, amateurism is important.”

    One issue that I do think is relevant is that the number of athletes who generate revenue through their labor is teeny-tiny compared to all athletes.

    In terms of policy, there are many issues or angles. Should the NCAA even exist? Can we get the NBA and NFL to start paying for their own minor leagues instead of getting higher education to do its dirty work for them? How do you actually get a fair compensation for athletes without completely undermining their role as students?

    As a college educator, I am very concerned about trying to put a dollar amount on everything a student does. If we say, look these five football players provide x revenue, why stop there? Why not charge art students, music students, lacrosse players, and swimmers since they COST the university more. Management and engineering professors are more expensive, so should we charge more? There is a kind of organizational socialism or collectivism built into the university. You are a student FIRST and we protect your ability to explore all that means. If paying a few student athletes starts to undermine that collectivism, I think the unintended and bad consequences could be severe.

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