By Harry Sutton ’20
The National Football League (NFL) was established in 1920, and in 1946, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was created. In 1936, the first ever NFL draft took place at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Since then, hundreds of college athletes have been drafted each year by the teams in the respective leagues.
If a young athlete aspires to go professional, at least in American football and basketball leagues, they need to pick the right college, one that is part of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) to display their talents to NFL and NBA scouts. They must perform in college for at least a year and then declare for the draft.
Over many years, a controversy has emerged over whether college athletes should be paid for their talents. The NCAA is one of the most profitable sports organizations, and the powerhouse of college athletics. The NCAA has an annual revenue of over $1.1 billion, but they don’t pay their players anything.
Kylia Carter, the mother of current Chicago Bulls center, and former Duke basketball superstar, compared the NCAA to slavery. She said, “You’ve paid for a child to come to your school to do what you wanted them to do for you, for free, and you made a lot of money when he did that, and you’ve got all these rules in place that say he cannot share in any of that. The only other time when labor does not get paid but yet someone else gets profits and the labor is black and the profit is white, is in slavery.”
This is a drastic comparison, but Carter does have a point. The NCAA is clearly a for-profit organization, and one of the most successful sports organizations in all of the U.S. The system ties college athletes into scholarships that forces them to play in order to attend the school. There is clearly a problem in the NCAA and its very foundation. Those who create the viral success of college athletics are not directly gaining from it and it can easily be seen as forced labor with the obligations tied in to scholarships and the pathway that must be followed for aspiring college athletes.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said that collegiate athletics are not professional leagues, but are simply ways for students to play sports. However, many collegiate athletes aspire to be, and eventually become, professional athletes straight from college. Some colleges even pride themselves on having amazing athletic programs that can lead to careers in certain sports.
The enormous focus on athletics in some universities has also changed the images of those universities. The University of Alabama is as well known for its prestigious and dominant football team, while the University of Connecticut’s elite academics have been drowned out by an emphasis on their nationally-renowned basketball teams.
On the other hand, universities also spend millions of dollars on scholarships for high-quality athletes graduating from high school, which can be positive, but these scholarship athletes are tied into playing the sport they’ve been recruited for. The issue of focus on athletics at universities has brought up multiple problems in life for athletes and the entire system of being forced to play at an athletically elite college in order to succeed as a professional in a sport forces athletes into playing without pay.
A possible solution for this conundrum is the route that the MLB and NHL have taken. Rather than spending at least one year at a university with their only focus being playing their sport, aspiring professionals would be drafted to a minor league team where they could play at a high level and receive wages. This is what happens for young adults who hope to play in the MLB or the NHL, and it might be a good solution to the NCAA problem. If high school athletes in basketball and football were to join a professional minor league, like high school hopefuls in baseball and ice hockey do, they could gain experience before stepping into the major leagues, would receive pay for their high-level play and would not have to suffer through the for-profit exploitations and requirements of being an athlete for the NCAA.