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Is the NCAA Dropping the Ball?

John Donvan
Saturday, October 21, 2017

A few years ago, we held a debate where the resolution was, “Ban College Football.” The arguments centered mostly around head injuries, and also some on whether big-time college sports enhanced or detracted from what all agreed should be a university’s main mission – which is education.

As often happens in a debate, other issues came up and, being off point for the specific resolution, didn’t get a lot of time or focus. I’ll often say, in those moments, something like, “that sounds like a great topic to debate – and maybe we’ll do that at some other time.”

Well, that time has arrived for one of the questions we had to leave behind last time we debated college sports. It’s captured in the resolution we’ll be arguing on Tuesday at 7PM ET:

“Pay College Athletes”

What’s really interesting about this one is that universities were wrestling with this question a hundred years ago, but the question is certainly hotter today than it has ever been. Amidst stories of corruption and payoffs (see last month’s FBI arrest of assistant coaches at four prestigious universities), billion dollar revenues for some of the major conferences thanks to huge TV contracts, and a general cynicism about the concept of the “student-athlete,” we are hearing more demands than ever that college football and basketball drop the pretense of “amateurism,” and just pay cold hard cash to the players whose labor is the reason there’s a game at all. Not only is that fair, say proponents, but it will be a disincentive to corrupt behavior.

And yet, idealism isn’t dead. We’re hearing pushback from those who say paying salaries to athletes could once and for all destroy the thing that college sports still delivers beyond profits: spirit, community, and identity. Moreover, it is pointed out, there are lots of schools that actually spend more on sports than sports pay back. Plus, there could be legal nightmares arising from a scheme to pay football players but not the squash team – and to pay male athletes, but not their female counterparts. In short, paying college athletes would not just be harmful, but also unworkable.

I’m delighted that we’re taking this one on at last, with four great debaters, and in the spirit of competitiveness that gives all of our debates their edge and their energy.

I hope you’ll join us.

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