This past week, two of college football’s biggest stars, Jameis Winston and Todd Gurley, were in hot water for allegedly getting paid to sign autographs. Gurley has been indefinitely suspended by Georgia, but Winston is still eligible to play for FSU. Last year, Johnny Manziel was suspended by Texas A&M last season after being investigated for similar allegations.
Obviously, accepting money for autographs is breaking an NCAA rule. I’m not condoning breaking any rules. However, I do believe this rule needs to go. This rule has become extremely outdated now that college athletics is a multi-billion dollar industry. Today, everyone is cashing in off of these star college athletes except the players. I’ve been a proponent of all college athletes from revenue generating sports being paid, but the NCAA should at least allow for these athletes to make money off their own name, image and likeness.
I thought this issue would be resolved following the recent decision made in the Ed O’Bannon case. The judge ruled that the NCAA was “unreasonably restraining trade” by limiting what these revenue generating college athletes could receive. This lawsuit came about because a group of ex-athletes felt it was unjust that the EA Sports NCAA sports franchises were using their likenesses in their video games while the players were unable to profit from them.
There are many situations where people and organizations are profiting off the images of these athletes. If you’re Jameis Winston and see the #5 Florida State jerseys being sold on the NCAA website for $60, you’ve got to be thinking why you’re not getting any of that money. If you’re Todd Gurley and go on eBay and see a piece of memorabilia you autographed being auctioned off for $30, you’re probably thinking the same thing. The athletes are getting smarter. They see everyone but them is making money off their images.
The solution to this problem is that the NCAA needs to go to the Olympic model. This model would allow for major college athletes to make money off their own “brands.” They could sign endorsement deals or get paid to sign autographs. Olympians used to be considered amateur athletes just like these college athletes are considered, but as more money got associated with the Olympics, the concept of amateurism went out the window. The NCAA needs to follow the Olympic lead in this case.
Critics of the Olympic model for college athletics say that this is unfair to athletes of non-revenue generating sports and this will increase the gap between the big and small schools when it comes to recruiting. I don’t think this is unfair to non-revenue generating athletes. The revenue-generating athletes bring in more money, so they should have more opportunities to make money. The star quarterback is more valuable than the third string punter or a non-revenue generating athlete. Also, non-revenue generating athletes are allowed to utilize the same benefits. Someone like Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin could benefit greatly from this, but it may not be the case for your average college field hockey or tennis player.
When it comes to recruiting, the gap is already wide. The bigger schools can already offer more exposure and benefits to top recruits. There just has to be stronger regulation to make sure boosters don’t go into bidding wars over players.
All in all, the NCAA needs to stop living in the past and stop hiding behind the concept of amateurism and allow these athletes to make some money off their images. The NCAA and the schools are making plenty of money off them as it stands.