What won’t change, however, is the amateur status of the players who make college athletics a billion-dollar business.
“One thing that sets the fundamental tone is there’s very few members and, virtually no university president, that thinks it’s a good idea to convert student-athletes into paid employees. Literally into professionals,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday at Marquette University.
Emmert and the NCAA have had a turbulent year, with money the source for most of the discontent. After Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was investigated for allegedly receiving money for autographs — he was cleared — Time magazine put him on the cover along with the headline “It’s Time to Pay College Athletes.” Oklahoma State is investigating whether rules were broken after a series of Sports Illustrated stories that alleged cash payments to players and academic misconduct.
The NCAA is also facing an antitrust lawsuit from former players who believe they’re owed millions of dollars in compensation.
“(There’s) enormous tension right now that’s growing between the collegiate model and the commercial model,” said Emmert, who spoke as part of Marquette’s “On the Issues” forum. “And, by the way, this is nothing new. This tension has been going on forever and ever. It has gotten greater now because the magnitude of dollars has gotten really, really large.
“The most valuable (television) products are things you have to watch in real time, and that’s sports and ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” he added. “So we’re seeing an explosion in the value of sports media properties and that’s injected a lot of revenue into sports. ... That’s led to a lot of the discussion. This whole notion of, first and foremost, treating student-athletes in fair fashion while still maintaining the student-athlete, is at the core of all of this.”
One way to address that would be by allowing athletes to turn pro straight out of high school, Emmert said, something the NBA and NFL don’t allow. Other professions don’t impose an “artificial juncture,” he said, noting that ballet dancers don’t have to take a detour to college before joining a troupe. He also pointed to baseball’s two-track model.