For as long as I can remember the NCAA has tried to convince folks that “student-athletes” are just like any other student. It even went so far as to outlaw athletic dorms back in 1996.
But with college sports’ primary governing body calling the shots, student-athletes can’t be like any other student.
Sure, most college kids have a certain shared experience in the sense that they leave home for the first time and get some unsupervised on-the-job training as an adult, but there’s a difference between a football star and, say, a geology star.
But the difference I’m about to point out might not be the difference you’re thinking of.
Let’s say you are the top geology student in your class, on full scholarship and something of a whiz kid in the science. Word gets around that you’re a hotshot so you actually get to travel around and discuss geology with other students at other schools.
What’s to stop you from profiting from your skills, even while in college?
If a dude comes up to you and says he’ll give you $500 for autographing igneous rocks, and then sells those igneous rocks on eBay, that’s fine and dandy. You won’t get called in by the head of the geology department and told you have to sit out some seminars while they investigate the matter.
When I was in college I wanted to be a journalist so I worked for the school paper. I got paid for it – an actual monthly salary provided by the school, separate from scholarship or stipend funds.
At no time was my “eligibility” affected, even though I had technically “turned pro” long before I ever got a job at a daily newspaper.
But the NCAA has a real problem with a player making money no matter how that money is made. And if you put your signature on a bunch of mini-helmets in sequence and take money, it’s especially egregious.
And that’s why we’re witnessing the current soap opera at the University of Georgia, where the school has suspended tailback Todd Gurley for allegedly making some cash by signing memorabilia. Since the list of potential rules violations outlined in the NCAA Handbook is as long as it is absurd, the school has no choice but to sideline its star player while all the evidence is examined.
So now the NCAA waits on Georgia to request Gurley’s reinstatement, and then after the school has made its case the case will rest with the folks in the home office in Indianapolis.
They can rule Gurley’s punishment as time already served (or in this case time already sat) or add some more games to it.
And all because he profited from the same talents his school and the NCAA has profited from during his entire time in Athens.
I know, I know – if he did what he is accused of doing it constitutes what the NCAA calls an “extra benefit” and therefore was a rules violation. If you break a rule there are consequences, even if it that rule is dumb.
But you can’t have it both ways.
Either athletes are like other students and can cash in on their talents even while in college – or they aren’t and they can’t.
And the irony is that those who have pushed for (and finally won) the right for “autonomy” among Power 5 conferences are actually trying to make student-athletes more like “civilian” students than the NCAA ever has.
The brain trust of the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 decided kids who play football and basketball in their leagues have a right to some “spendable recognition” for their efforts, just like other college students have the right to their own brand of work-study.
If Gurley or any other player wants to sign a carload of helmets and jerseys and get paid for it, they should have every right to do so.
In other words, the college kids who play before 90,000 fans on Saturdays should have the same rights as geology and journalism students.
This article was republished with permission from the author, Scott Adamson. The article was originally published in the Anderson Independent-Mail.