“Giving up a three touchdown lead in the fourth quarter to our biggest rival hurts, sure. But we play this game because it benefits us physically, mentally, and socially. Besides, this is just a hobby, not my main focus here.”
Imagine the reaction if that’s what your favorite team’s quarterback said right after a close, miserable loss. He doesn’t have competitive fire! He’s not giving 110%!! He isn’t All In/A Michigan Man/(Wake Forest Catch Phrase)!!! And, yet, that quarterback would be quoting, nearly verbatim, Section 9, Article 2 of the NCAA Constitution – “The Principle of Amateurism.”
Why do I bring this up? Last week, Mark Emmert and company got taken to task by, well, pretty much the whole damn sports literati – the work of Spencer Hall and Dan Wetzel stand out especially in my mind, as does the still-fresh-18-months-later new rulebook proposed by Andy Staples. What I’m wondering is why amateur status matters to any of us (and, believe me, there are plenty of people on Twitter willing to tell you that a full scholarship is already overpayment for these players).
The NCAA would like you to believe amateurism is important because it student-athletes should be students first. That ship sailed quite a while ago for most of us, I suspect. My entirely speculative suspicion is this: people don’t want college athletes to get paid because they want to believe they’re playing for love of the school and, by extension, the fans associated with the school.
As a counterexample, despite its popularity, the NFL frequently leaves fans feeling a distant second to financial interests, whether we’re talking about lockouts or teams threatening to move unless they get a shiny new stadium or free agents jumping to a rival. That creates a strange and unrealistic need in some people for college football to be the “pure” alternative, where kids are busting ass for the right reasons. Or some bullshit like that.
The problem is, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t not show up to the games or tell recruits who turn you down they’re pieces of shit or boo Chris Leak (seriously, people fucking BOOED CHRIS LEAK) and still expect players to fight and work and bleed for you just on principle. If every other participant in this system – the coaches, the athletic directors, the conferences, the bowl organizers – gets to chase the money, your sport is no longer about Enhancing The Academic Journey That Is College. Amateurism doesn’t make sense in a world where we care about football players as athletes first and as students 33rd. But using amateurism to preserve your own outdated sports worldview is more than nonsensical – it’s selfish.