Thursday, August 8, 2013

What is an amateur?

Amateurism is a word that we hear a lot about in sports journalism. We have heard it for year, spoken of in a reverent tone, as if being an amateur gave you a solid stance on the moral high ground to those who performed for *gasp* money.

The hypocrisy of this stance has been discussed ad nauseam, especially where major college athletics are concerned. The Universities grant scholarships to athletes who will help their teams to succeed. Those student athletes commit to playing only for their school's teams until the agreement is voided by one party or the other. All in all, that is a pretty reasonable agreement. You play for us, and we give you services in place of dollars which, if you take full advantage of the opportunity, gives you a plan if you don't get rich playing your game. Considering the cost of a college degree, these scholarships are no small item, especially for those who are not stars.

If you look at the backup guard on the football team, for example. Let's assume that his family, like most in America, will be financially challenged at paying for a college degree. This means that someone, likely the student, would be taking on considerable debt. Instead, by working for the athletics department, and let's not pretend that playing big time college athletics is anything less than a job, he will come out with 4 years of education at no cost. And in many cases, he will have had the opportunity to attend a better university, and had a better support structure in place to help him succeed. This is, again, no small item, and it does give the school the right to make some demands...just as the benefits of employment grant any other employer the right to demand some concessions. They have the right to demand performance in the job of the employee, or a given time period, and they have the right to demand that they employees will not work against them. The question, to my mind, is this: Do they have the right to control what they employee does outside of their preparation and performance? 

Does my employer have the right to tell me that I cannot use the same skills that I develop to do my job for other endeavors? Can a school tell a teacher that they cannot write a book on their subject? Does an IT firm have the right to tell their employee that they can't fix a friend's computer on the side, or have a blog about technology? No, they do not.

What is the difference? Well, it is professed to be that the student athletes are amateurs.

So, what is an amateur?

According to Merriam Webster, an amateur is one of 3 things.

1: devotee, admirer

2: one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession

3: one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science

Looking at that definition, I would say that the latter option definitely does not apply in how the NCAA applies the word. After all, if Johnny Manziel is lacking in competence in his art (sport), then why does he have that little golden statue and why can he sell his signature? Why is Terrell Pryor, or AJ Green’s, game apparel worth exchange for goods, services, or currency? If they were incompetent, we would not be having this debate.

So, when we look at item 2 as the applicable definition, the question becomes where the line is for what defines a profession.

Back to Merriam Webster

A profession is

a : a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation

b : a principal calling, vocation, or employment

So, the NCAA’s stance that student athletes cannot profit from their athletic endeavors because they are amateurs begs the question. If they are performing a sport as a pastime, then why does the NCAA argue that they are already fairly compensated and that allowing additional compensation will make the ‘playing field’ uneven for recruitment? If they are amateurs, then they should not be compensated, and if it is amateur athletics, then there should be no compensation.

Further, I am fairly sure that

1. Neither Terrell Pryor, nor AJ Green, got a scholarship in the barter system

2. Johnny Manziel did not get a scholarship in penmanship.

They got scholarships because of their athletic prowess, and have the opportunity to obtain compensation for the recognition that their success has gained them. But the schools say no, you cannot profit from it, but yet the schools do.

I think the schools are just mad that money is being made that they aren’t getting a piece of. In a country that professes to be capitalistic, this smacks of a monopoly. The schools can sell jerseys, they can sell hats, they can sell tickets, and they can keep that money, if they have included the right to use the athlete’s name. But, there are no laws saying that a piece of apparel cannot be given away. There are no laws saying that an item cannot be signed, and I don’t think either of these cases are evidence of boosters leveraging their assets to give their alma mater an unfair advantage. They are just evidence of the free market at work, and the NCAA needs to shut up and be content with the lion’s share that they have of the market they constructed on the efforts of thousands of young people.

After all you complain about ‘kids’ leaving school early. Stop making them live as starving college students. They have a gift just as rare as a music prodigy. You just don’t care about the music prodigy because you can sell his/her jersey. Let these athletes leverage their fame, if they are lucky enough to have it. After all, this isn’t SMU of the 80’s we are talking about. These are kids trying to get a little spending money.

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