With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Power 5 Conferences Should Split Revenues with College Football Players

Part I of Victoria Jackson’s three-part paper on the importance of football in the overall economic structure of college athletics was published April 12, 2022 in ADU.

Just as football has always been a sport apart, so too have been football athletes, in their athletic and academic experiences and treatment by universities. The time demands and expectations of performance mean that football athletes face even more pressure-filled, challenging circumstances balancing athletic and academic roles and responsibilities. Graduation rates among football athletes, especially Black football athletes, are considerably lower. Even for those who graduate, the educational degree-seeking experience can be watered down, with the preponderance of “clustering” in majors and “majoring in eligibility,” and the sports commitments that make visiting office hours, attending special events, working internships, or taking a semester abroad less likely. 

As athletic facilities continue to move farther and further from the academic core of campus, the geospatial design of football also sets football athletes physically apart from other athletes. Administratively, universities have long organized football separately in bookkeeping, and continue to do so, even when reporting numbers for compliance with Title IX. 

The rhetoric upholding amateurism – today, contained by the NCAA’s “No Pay” hard line – also includes the crucial notion that all sports within an athletic department, and all athletes across all teams, are the same and deserving of the same benefits. This belies the very different industries operating under the umbrella of college sports. Speaking in terms of football athlete labor, the actual price of an athletic scholarship (despite its presentation by amateur ideology as “priceless”) falls far short of the monetary value of a football athlete’s labor. Moreover, the athletic scholarship a football athlete receives is of weaker value than those enjoyed by athletes in other sports, who are more likely and better set up to enjoy a fuller range of educational experiences and opportunities that a scholarship to a university is supposed to provide.

The conflation of amateurism ideology’s morality with education has worked to place an athletic scholarship on a pedestal of pricelessness while encouraging the sentiment that pay somehow would harm education. But this has also, ironically and tragically, had the result of quashing innovation in athlete education, while simultaneously successfully creating a misdirection by keeping the focus on policing compensation and perceived violations of amateurism. 

“No Pay” rules are not at their core about punishing “bad” actors and “cheaters,” though that is how they end up being implemented in practice. “No Pay” rules are about making sure athletes are not classified as employees. So, of course “No Pay” is not about protecting athletes’ education. 

If the concern and the north star really were education, we would have seen a redesign of curriculum and loosening of timelines for football athletes. Why haven’t we seen the development of a football major, for those students who want it, inspired by majors in the performance arts? Why should a football player be expected to enroll in 12 or 15 credit hours (beyond football learning) in a fall season when he is working upwards of 40 hours per week, facing far more intense pressure—and from a wider range of sources—than athletes in other sports to perform well and win, and playing a physically demanding game that often causes athletes to endure a lot of pain? Because admitting sports are serious and a business and redesigning football training in line with educational and professional development principles to serve athletes would expose the professional nature of college football. The last thing colleges have wanted to do is act in a way that convinces state and national labor relations boards to classify and treat football athletes as employees.

Read entire article at Athletic Director U