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Ithaca College Authority on Sport Ethics Asks: If Division I Athletes are Amateurs, Why is the NCAA Getting Rich?

 ITHACA, NY — According to a 2010 study by Ithaca College researchers and the National College Players Association, an athlete advocacy group, the average Division I athlete on a “full scholarship” ends up annually paying $2,951 worth of school-related expenses not covered by grants-in-aid. Earlier this week, more than 300 Division I football and men’s basketball players signed a petition urging the NCAA to set aside an unspecified amount from an estimated $775 million in recently acquired television revenues to create a fund that would cover the athletes’ educational costs. Should any of the allocated funds not be spent during the athlete’s eligibility, the remainder would be given to the athlete upon graduation, no strings attached.

Though he told the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics he would recommend increases of up to $2,000 to cover the scholarship shortfall, NCAA President Mark Emmert balked at the players’ proposal, stating it was a step down the slippery slope of paying college athletes for their services. The ideal of amateurism, Emmert said, is the backbone of college sport — a claim Stephen Mosher, Ithaca College professor of sport management and media, calls “preposterous.”

“I would find it refreshing if colleges and universities would get out of the business of being minor leagues for the NFL and the NBA, because there’s no way they can be both academic centers of learning and training grounds for professional athletes,” said Mosher, a colleague of the faculty researcher who undertook the 2010 shortfall study. “It’s not possible to be a student-athlete when you’re spending 40 to 45 hours a week doing your sport. That’s a full-time job. How can you be expected to go to school on top of that and succeed academically? You can’t. A look at Division I graduation rates tells you that.”

Not only is an enterprise that generates millions of dollars of annual revenue preposterous now, Mosher said, it’s been that way before the big bucks started rolling in.

“Historically, ‘amateurism’ was always intentional, and its purpose was to maintain a separation of the classes,” Mosher said. “Even in the United States, who borrowed the idea from Britain, amateurism has always been about disempowering the poor and working classes — from which most athletes spring.”

Even the International Olympic Committee, Mosher added, recognized the foolishness of maintaining the ‘amateur’ ideal and eliminated the concept from the Olympic Games almost 40 years ago.

“Eligibility for participation in the Olympics is governed by international federations for each sport, and the rules vary from sport to sport and are quite fluid. Emmert’s position is, in the 21st century, logically indefensible; but since the power of the NCAA rests with the presidents, no grass roots movement can reasonably be expected to succeed.”

One reason: there’s simply too much money to be made from Division I sports. Another reason lies with the fans.

“Given the current power structure of the NCAA, Don Quixote’s tilting-at-windmills approach is the best way to raise public awareness,” Mosher said. “But public awareness won’t mean much as long as fans care more about their teams winning games than about student-athletes winning labor disputes.”

Stephen Mosher is the author of several articles and books on sport ethics and moral development, including “Where Have All the Heroes Gone?” He has also authored a series of columns for ESPN.com on the Little League World Series scandal involving pitcher Danny Almonte, who played despite being two years over the age limit.

Mosher can be contacted at smosher@ithaca.edu or (607) 274-3162.



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