Paying Student Athletes: No!

This concerns the "Exploiting U" [by Jesse Fox Mayshark] article found in your Sept. 2 issue.

The whole idea of paying student-athletes seems to me to be ludicrous. Players have a choice. To call them "indentured servants," as David Moon is quoted as saying, seems intrinsically over the top. You could also say the player is a football whore, where he does his tricks on the field for the enjoyment of the ticket holders. You can also avoid the name-calling completely and look at the issue rationally.

The scholarship provides an opportunity to get a college degree in case the football option does not work out. Certainly not all NCAA athletes are expecting to move on to the athletic professional level. Just for the sake of argument, however, let us look at it as though it were the case.

In the 17th century, a person might have chosen to indenture himself as a way to improve his situation. To leave the potato famine in Ireland for instance, he might have agreed to come to America and work for free for a period of time so that when his time was done he would have more opportunities than what he had in his native country.

In 2010, what are the other options available for "a bunch of black kids from the inner city" and "white redneck kids from Alabama" who have athletic talent and want to improve their situation? If it were not for the NCAA providing opportunities to play college sports, these kids may well have to stay home and work for the indenturing servant gangs or factory farms.

By coming to a NCAA school, an athlete receives tuition, room and board, medical care, advertisement for skills, a venue to perform, on-the-job training, and promotional marketing to help him reach the professional level. The coaches have an interest in the student-athlete succeeding. That is why they work with the athletes for 60 hours a week. They are helping the student-athlete succeed in their chosen trade. What other college student receives personal help from a million-dollar-plus-grade mentor? Therefore, you could say the athletes are already compensated for their time and effort.

Any other college student, even if they come with an academic scholarship, will have to pay for their own housing, food, and other expenses and has no guarantee for a job later. After graduation, they have no expert on hand to help get their first job. Indeed, it is typical for a new graduate to have to take a year-long unpaid internship in order to get the experience they need to enhance their resume.

Would the ace microbiologist get the free marketing and publicity that the athletes get? The first Derek Dooley television show features a five-minute video about Chris Walker followed up with Dooley saying, "Anybody who has him on his company or his team has a great person." The university actively markets their players. So most players want their picture used because it helps to keep their name in the public realm. I have not heard the players complain about their photo being on ESPN SportsCenter. ("Oh, I hate that my touchdown was broadcast all over the country this weekend!")

As for the university reaping profits from the athletics departments, it is true that NCAA sports are a business. The university is actually investing in the athlete. A place in the school is reserved for the stellar player. The ticket buyers are investing in hopes that they will get to enjoy watching a winning season. If the school's investment does not pay off will the student have to reimburse the school for not performing?

So, like so many other relationships, the contract between the athlete and the university is not exploitive. It is mutually beneficial and any student-athlete who does not think so is always free to walk away and pursue their dreams on their own dime.

Cindy Elder

Knoxville