the BigAmateurism monologues

A series of events over the last 18 months—some unforeseeable—have created a perfect storm that will change college sports forever. The NCAA's bait an…
Apr 20th, 2021 | 1:07:37

17: Pay for Play (Part I): 1906-1945

The amateur-professional dance of hypocrisy in big-time college sports is defined principally in the relationship between high-value revenue-producing athletes in football and men’s basketball and the universities who buy their services. From the earliest iterations of BigAmateurism, universities have professed their amateurism virtue to the outside world while privately pursuing professionalism for power, prestige, publicity, and money. This episode—the first in a series—explores the many methods universities have used to quench their thirst for institutional superiority. All roads in this quest lead to one central motivation: gain or avoid losing a competitive advantage in the talent acquisition market. This series looks at several crucial eras that have shaped the evolution of this market, which is among the most misunderstood components of BigAmateurism. We start with the period 1906 – 1945, in which universities competed for talent in a largely unregulated amateurism-based market. In this period, the NCAA had no enforcement authority. The concept of “home rule” governed the market in which conferences and individual universities were left to their honor to adhere to principles of “amateurism.” These vaguely conceptualized restrictions were primarily honored in their breach. We use the 1929 Carnegie Report on American College Athletics to frame the tactics used during the rise of big-time football in the early 20th-century to acquire superior talent. In subsequent episodes, we will examine other vital milestones in the talent acquisition market. This will include an analysis of the “perfect storm” era of 1945 – 1956. In this period, the NCAA acquired meaningful enforcement jurisdiction and authority at the national level. We look at the failed “Sanity Code” which was a compromise attempt to preserve some elements of “amateurism”, the threat of worker’s compensation suits that led to the invention of the “student-athlete”, and the capitulation to full athletics scholarships which former NCAA president Walter Byers described as one of the most important events in the history of college sports. Byers and many other supporters of the Sanity Code believed that the NCAA had abandoned any rational conceptualization of amateurism and adopted explicit pay for play with the full athletics scholarship. The next stop on our journey is 2003 – 2006 with former NCAA president Myles Brand’s conceptualization of the “collegiate model,” in which Brand attempted to reconcile the growing tension between the demand for highly professionalized big-time football and men’s basketball and the NCAA’s insistence on amateurism. Brand’s Orwellian “collegiate model” requires the acceptance of the proposition that “amateur defines the participants, not the enterprise.” We then move to the antitrust era starting in 2006 with lawsuits by athletes challenging the NCAA’s amateurism-based compensation limits, focusing on the remedies the district court and 9th Circuit formulated in the O’Bannon suit. The limited remedy for the NCAA’s violation of antitrust law in its name, image, and likeness compensation restrictions was folded into the athletics scholarship and deemed an education-related benefit consistent with the NCAA’s conceptualization of the athletics scholarship as nothing more than the reimbursement for reasonable and necessary education-related expenses. The O’Bannon remedy as framed by the 9th Circuit highlights the folly of deeming the athletics scholarship as anything other than pay for play. Finally, we look at the changes in the athletics scholarship and other forms of compensation to Power 5 athletes due to the Power 5’s acquisition of “Autonomy” status under the NCAA umbrella.