The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is constantly criticized throughout the sports world for its handling of football and basketball, the organization’s two most popular and profitable sports. While much of this attention is deserved, the criticism of the NCAA should not be confined to just its decisions regarding these particular sports.
Other sports may not seem worthy of much attention, but the NCAA’s mishandling represents the overarching problem with the organization: their prioritization of profitability over the best interests of the athletes.
The most common example of this problem stems from the question of whether college athletes should be forced to maintain their amateur status and remain unpaid. While this debate pertains mainly to football and basketball players where millions of dollars are at stake, the issue of amateurism is an important topic for all top athletes.
The fact of the matter is that the best in any collegiate sport are talented enough to make money and play professionally. Preventing them from earning any money while competing in college is a serious deterrent to these athletes, and as a result, many decide to skip college competition whenever possible, forgoing the opportunity of a college experience because it simply does not make financial sense.
One major reason why the NCAA has maintained its stance on keeping college athletes unpaid is because amateurism is often associated with a sense of pureness and an image of athletes competing for the love of the game. Were college athletes to be paid, this hypothetical image would disappear. The NCAA fears that this would affect the massive interest in college sports, negatively impacting the organization financially. Even though paying top athletes would be fair and appropriate, the NCAA continues to hold out as its own economic implications are clearly their priority.
The issue of amateurism is not the only way the NCAA is putting profits over athletes, however. Rule changes mandated by the organization are another example. Take college tennis, for instance, a relatively minor entity for the NCAA that will never be a major moneymaker. Instead of accepting that there is little money to be made through the sport, the NCAA has instead attempted to change the rules and format of the competition to make it more TV-friendly, potentially allowing them to bring in more money through TV contracts.
The current format of college tennis gives players the opportunity to play both singles and doubles in a high-pressure environment, not unlike what professional tennis offers. Under this format, matches often take up to four or five hours, which is longer than almost any college athletic event. The NCAA has proposed rule changes that would speed up matches and make TV broadcasting more feasible. As a by-product of these changes, the game would be much less similar to professional tennis, making college tennis a much less valuable way for elite players to develop their skills. As a result, more elite players would opt to forgo college.
The NCAA should simply accept that college tennis will never be a source of significant revenue, and instead of trying to turn the game into something it is not, it should allow the sport to be played under a format that best prepares its elite athletes for the professional world. This idea holds true in a broader sense as well as the NCAA should make the best interests of its athletes a priority over potential economic gain. Failure to do so will only cause the organization to continue to be a dysfunctional group of profit-driven businesspeople.
Shapiro is a member of
the class of 2016.