NCAA football amateur only for players

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
February 5, 2012

Last year’s big game was the most watched cable television program of all time, with more than 27.3 million viewers. Each year's tickets are hoarded by corporate sponsors or scalpers who sell them for up to ten times face value. It is larger than just a game; it is a highly orchestrated weeks-long event, to which thousands of ticketless fans annually travel simply to sit in a bar near the stadium at kickoff.

No, it’s not the Super Bowl. It is the NCAA’s football BCS Championship Show.

There is little difference in the NFL and NCAA gridiron industries, except for the charade of amateurism forced on franchises such as LSU and Alabama. (Feel free to insert your own “Alabama cheats in recruiting” joke here.)

It is only amateur for the players. It certainly isn't for the coaches, administrators, private businesses and this paper's sportswriters - all of whom benefit from a tax-free system that relies on modern-day slave labor.

It is difficult for a passionate fan to have sympathy for the athletes. They are 21st century larger-than-life gladiators. Men want to be them. Women want to date them. Fathers long for their sons to become them. We flock to on-campus cathedrals and 60-inch home altars to worship them.

“Those kids ought to feel privileged just to receive tuition and our attention.”

And Rosa Parks should have accepted that the back of the bus got there at the same time as the front.

In what other area of life is amateurism considered sacred? There is nothing inherently evil with professionalism or sacred about amateurism. The current NCAA system pretends to protect an institutional integrity that does not exist. The athletes are merely interchangeable stage props in a multi-billion dollar play.

The Sugar Bowl, an organization that enjoys tax-free status because, ostensibly, it serves a public purpose, pays its CEO $500,000 a year.

The University of Tennessee generates more than $56 million in annual football revenue. Assuming a blended annual cost of $25,000 a piece for in state and out-of-state scholarships, the Vols “pay” their 85 front line workers a total of $2.1 million, or exactly what it pays Pat Summitt.

Many of those kids are paid in a currency that is worthless to them; they have no business being in college.

Why can’t a high school football player negotiate the terms of his contract with a college? Other athletes do it. A high school swimmer, volleyball player or baseball player often makes his or her decision about college based on the amount of aid (read: money) a school is willing to provide them.

And that money is earned by a football player who is prohibited from engaging in the same negotiation.

College athletics can provide intangible benefits to the student, of which I am the beneficiary of many. I am also the beneficiary of the many lessons I learned spending my teenage summers and falls chopping cotton. That I received a market wage for that farm work does not lessen its value or virtue.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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