Justice for College Athletes?

At this writing, millions of television viewers are tuning in to watch the NCAA basketball tournament, but not to watch NCAA bureaucrats or college administrators.

“It is the talent of 500,000 unpaid athletes that fuels the NCAA’s billion-dollar revenue stream,” explains North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, a former student-athlete. “The current student-athlete model prohibits college athletes from having financial rights to use their name while allowing an unrestrained, tax-exempt organization to monetize their images to fill stadiums, sell memorabilia and sign multibillion-dollar contracts. That gets at the heart of what is wrong with the way we are currently treating our college athletes.”

A student on a music scholarship can play a paying gig, but a punter at Central Florida was declared ineligible after he refused to stop selling ads on his YouTube page.

Current NCAA rules regarding name, image, and likeness of college athletes, Walker contends, “strips them of their identity and sovereignty over their public image. The athletes’ freedoms don’t go away. They are just transferred to empower someone else. In this case, those publicity rights and the large wealth created by them are held tight by school athletic departments, sports conference board rooms, and NCAA administrators.”

Walker wants to allow college athletes to profit from their own name and image, and he finds support in the Congressional Black Caucus, which recently asked NCAA boss Mark Emmert: “Should the NCAA allow its student-athletes to benefit from a portion of the significant revenue that they help generate?”

The default response from NCAA defenders is that the athletes get free tuition coverage, which amounts to payment in kind. But as Walker notes, “Only about half of Division I football and men’s basketball players even leave school with a four-year degree.” The NCAA, Walker contends, “has been given time to assuage these concerns, but has ultimately fallen short.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.
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