College football season is coming to an end and college basketball season is gearing up. NCAA football and basketball have long represented the pinnacle of amateur athletics. However, in recent years, many people have begun to question the amateur tag as it relates to college athletes. This in large part due to the amount of money flowing from the money-playing sports. Perhaps the best argument against the amateurism claim of the NCAA came from the pandemic. In a situation where fans aren’t at games and many students aren’t even on campus, “student-athletes” are still playing. This makes it crystal clear that college sports are a business.
Consider this: When the NBA season resumed, they played the entire remainder of the season in a bubble. That’s because in order to guarantee the safety of the players to the best of their ability, they needed keep them contained and isolated from the general public. Before the NBA finals even concluded, college football teams were already flying teams of 100 plus players to away games. The NCAA asked amateur athletes to take bigger risks than the professional ones.
The aforementioned risk is not just in theory either. Ohio State University researchers conducted a study on their athletes that tested positive for COVID-19. They found that 30% had cellular heart damage. This is a big deal for two reasons. The first is that it shows young healthy people are not as “immune” to COVID-19 as people in the public have speculated. The second is it shows the real and tangible risk these athletes are taking.
It’s clear that despite the amateur ideals they espouse, colleges and universities don’t look at their athletic programs as simple extracurriculars. That’s okay; the athletes don’t either. Many of them wanted to play. However, we need to stop pretending that college athletics isn’t a business and adopt a compensation model that appropriately accounts for the risk the players are taking and the value they are bringing to their respective schools.
I’m not saying that college teams shouldn’t be playing. I’m not the pandemic police. How to proceed is something that schools, conferences, governments and most importantly players, have to decide for themselves. But the fact that they have decided to play, even as the other traditional functions of school are on pause shows they aren’t quite as “amateur” as they claim to be.