There is an age-old debate that has really been magnified in the past few years: should college athletes be paid? There are clearly arguments to be made for either side, and it seems as if everyone has an opinion on the matter. The question was magnified earlier this year when the Northwestern football team voted to unionize, a monumental moment in the push for college athletes to be paid, that many people supported.
While college athletes being paid would be a fantastic thing, I believe it should be taken a step further than that: college athletes should sign contracts with schools in a free market system.
Jay Bilas, an ESPN college basketball analyst, has been very critical of the NCAA and their model of “amateurism”, and he advocates a free market system in college sports. In Bilas’ free market system, athletes would sign contracts with schools like professional athletes sign with teams. Schools would offer athletes a certain amount of money over a certain amount of years, and instead of these athletes just “committing” to a school as they do now, they would actually pick a school based on who offers the best overall package, with contract included. In these contracts, schools could also use clauses that protect themselves from losing the player due to transfer or early entry to the NBA or NFL, among other things.
People could make the argument that it would make the playing field more uneven than it is now; however, this is not necessarily the case. Now, top recruits usually only go to the top schools. However, under a new system, a smaller school may decide that they really would a top recruit such as Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. If a smaller school offered them enough money and outbid the likes of Kansas and Duke, maybe they could land one of these guys. And, if they had a clause requiring them to stay in school more than one year, they would have these recruits for a long period of time.
The idea of contracts in college sports can be easily related to a combination of ideas from Thomas Hobbes’ and John Locke’s social contracts.
In Hobbes’ state of nature, three things lead to “quarrel”: competition, glory, and diffidence. In this case, glory and competition are the most important. Hobbes believes glory occurs when people take pleasure in having and obtaining power. In this case, many people (including Bilas) believe that the NCAA is hoarding much of the power by not allowing student-athletes to receive compensation, thus taking away almost all of the say they have in matters. Also, with Hobbes’ idea of competition for scarce resources, the NCAA takes away the power of all of the athletes to compete for said resources, and allows themselves and its schools to keep more.
With all of that said, ideas from Locke’s social contract are more prevalent here. In Locke’s idea of human nature, people are self-interested and rational (this is also true for Hobbes, but Hobbes has other ideas that throw off this model). In college sports, everyone – athletes, schools, and NCAA officials – want what is best, ultimately, for themselves. While the NCAA obviously wants great athletes (better athletes improve their bottom line), their number one concern is money, and in self-interest, they make sure athletes can’t have any so they can have all of it.
With contracts, college sports would be much more fair. Just as Locke believes contracts are in place to protect people’s property, contracts in college sports would allow athletes to protect (or in this case, receive for the first time) what is rightfully theirs – money that they earn for a university.
Throughout NCAA history, many famous scandals have occurred due to athletes receiving “illegal benefits”, with the usual case being the athlets selling autographs for money. Recently, an example of a player accused of this is Georgia RB Todd Gurley. Gurley was suspended for four games in the midst of his Heisman-quality season due to making somewhere around $400 on autographs.
According to Locke, another reason contracts are important is that people are bad judges in their own cases. With Gurley, the NCAA acted as a judge in a case where they also made the rule and then enforced it, without any collaboration from the players’ side. I would say this is the NCAA being a judge in their own case, and Locke would say that the NCAA would be a bad judge here, leading to disputes. With contracts, this could be avoided.
Lastly, we discussed in lecture what kinds of relationships should and should not have contracts. While the outlook on personal relationships were somewhat hazy, we agreed that business relationships and others where there were significant financial implications involved, there should be contracts. Clearly, the relationship between players and the NCAA is not personal in the slightest, and millions of dollars are involved (for some athletes, they generate millions of dollars for their school alone).
All in all, in a free market system with contracts in college sports, fairness would be ensured all around. Athletes would be able to paid and be protected from schools taking advantage of their likenesses, while lower schools would have more of a shot at landing top players and would be protected from transfer or misbehavior. While this happens, the NCAA would lose some of its power to be corrupt. This would be a good scenario for everyone.