College sports have a long history of making the basic claim that amateurism and education are intrinsically linked. In 1953, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that injured University of Denver football player Ernest Nemeth was eligible to receive workers' compensation. Petrified of the financial ramifications, the NCAA created the term "student-athlete," a signal to courts and the public alike that Nemeth and his peers were simply young scholars who happened to be very good at sports—think undergrads tossing a frisbee on the quad, only with 50,000 paying spectators—and not de-facto school employees entitled to pay and legal protections.Little has changed in the 60 years since. During the O'Bannon case, NCAA lawyers argued that amateurism rules "focus [athletes] on spending their time doing what students do, rather than trying to make as much money as possible, which is what professionals do." While testifying, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides said that paying players would create a "wedge" between them and their classmates, and make uncompensated, non-revenue-sport athletes feel "worse about themselves." NCAA president Mark Emmert, meanwhile, fretted that if an "athlete was being paid and it changed significantly their lifestyle, they probably would not be living in a residence hall. They probably would not be eating in the cafeteria, they probably would not be as—as active a member or participant in the life of a campus."
Steiner: "Are you aware that some of those students at Stanford were making $3,000 a day on their apps?"
Muir: "[I] was not aware of that."
Steiner: "And they were making more than the professor teaching them in that class?"
Muir: "Okay. I will take your word for it."
Steiner: "Okay. Do you know if those students are no longer integrated into the academic community at Stanford?"
"It's crazy, the idea that if we put $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 into the pockets of these athletes who don't have a lot of money, who knows what they will do with it," Grenardo says. "Even at my law school, some of my students have better cars than me. Nobody says about kids who are affluent, 'Oh my God, we need to rein this in.'"Last year, Emmert took his employer's logic to its dopiest possible conclusion and claimed that paying college athletes would make them no longer students at all, presumably because simultaneously (a) playing campus sports, (b) being paid for playing that sport, and (c) being a college student would require a heretofore unknown quantum state.
Muir: "I would assume that they are."
Speaking of ridiculous, on its website the NCAA says that "maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority." Great. If that's true, then college sports should be relatively free of academic compromise and malfeasance.After all, they're already amateur.Except: a 2014 report from South Carolina's College Sports Research Institute found that the graduation rate of football players in the Power Five conferences was 20 percent lower than that of their non-athlete counterparts; for men's basketball players, the graduation rate in major conferences was 31.5 percent lower.Three years ago, the NCAA reportedly was investigating 20 cases of academic fraud at its member schools, 18 of them at Division I institutions. One of those schools, the University of North Carolina, was placed on academic probation by its accreditation body—the first Tier 1 research university to receive such a penalty. UNC remains under NCAA investigation for a massive scandal in which hundreds of athletes over a 23-year period were steered toward bogus "paper classes" that never met and required students to produce single, end-of-semester papers, which often were plagiarized or allegedly written by others and sometimes graded by non-faculty members.
Does the college sports establishment even believe its own malarkey? Not entirely. University of Notre Dame president John Jenkins told the New York Times that permitting player pay would be an "Armageddon" that "does some violence to [the] educational relationship" between athletes and their schools—but school athletic director Jack Swarbrick told VICE Sports at a campus sports reform meeting in Washington, D.C., that he doesn't think there's a link between amateurism and education. The NCAA touted education as its raison d'être in the O'Bannon case, but responded to McCants and Ramsay's lawsuit over the North Carolina scandal by arguing in federal court that it has no legal duty to make sure said education is actually delivered."This is the underlying lie of the NCAA," says Michael Hausfeld, the Washington, D.C.-based antitrust attorney who headed the O'Bannon case and is also the lead litigator on McCants and Ramsay's suit. "Up until we filed the North Carolina case, you had the NCAA saying they are there for the welfare of athletes as students. Now they say they have nothing to do with that. You can't be more of a hypocrite."