College sports, especially football, have been a big – and profitable -- draw for a long time. But when new-found money entered the picture with the advent of cable television – an industry desperately in need of expanded programming – college sports teams and their conferences were anxious to cash in.
If ever there was a goose that laid golden eggs, this was it.
Everyone seemed happy with the windfall, except those providing the entertainment: the players. Their lot stayed about the same. No wonder a player like D.J. Fluker, who starred on Alabama's national championship team last season, would feel entitled to a little something in advance of his first pro paycheck. Same, in all likelihood, for Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who must have understood the value of his autograph.
While reaching for riches, the powerful universities and their governing body – the NCAA – have created a monster. It’s a not-for-profit, big business trying to operate under an umbrella called amateurism.
The leaders of these prestigious universities, pragmatic as well as scholarly, must know that change is inevitable. Some observers call for the introduction of free market principals to benefit athletes, but that idea is fraught with problems. That system would just channel mounds of cash to the few celebrity stars at the expense of those outside the media spotlight.
Conference presidents are pressuring embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert to resolve these issues. At the same time the NCAA faces lawsuits from past and present players over the questionable marketing of their “likenesses” without compensation.
Elsewhere, some colleges are cracking down on athletes who see college ball as little more than a stepping stone to a livelihood in the pros.
In a recent article in Forbes, contributor Darren Heitner was critical of the University of Illinois for further limiting access by legitimate sports agents to athletes. If colleges were truly interested in protecting student-athletes, he argued, they wouldn’t promote behind-the-scenes communications and back-door dealings.