Thursday, March 27, 2014

On paying student athletes...

I'm a sociologist by heart.

What does that mean?

It means that when I see a social problem I try to do two things.  First, I try to understand the issue as it stands today as well as how it evolved to its current state.  Second, I try to understand how powers outside of the individual are at play within the issue.

Student athletes are trying to unionize at Northwestern University.

If I were teaching a social problems class, I would have students debate this article.  This article illustrates the intersection of so many amazing issues.

Student athletes are stating that they would like to unionize for two key reasons.  They state that decisions are being made about them, like their health and conduct, yet they have little to no input in those decisions.  They state that colleges and universities make a lot of money off of their performance, yet the compensation the athletes receive off of that is minimal.  The athletes argue that they put in around forty hours a week of work, so they should be given union rights comparable to someone that puts in a solid work week at an auto plant or as a teacher.

I am a firm believer in trying to solve the problem at its source.  I see no point in creating expensive band-aids that stop a leak, when you could prevent the wound from ever occurring.  The problem with this approach is that stopping the issue at is source typically involves changing social structures that are old, firm in their beliefs, and have the power to topple over anyone that gets in their way.

So what is the real issue here?

Well, I think the real issue here is capitalism.  When academia was founded, the entire purpose was not to get an education so you could make money.  What was the purpose?  Learning and the creation of knowledge.  Boom.  Yes, that simple.

However, we have evolved since then.  Instead of families subsisting on farms by their lonesome, we now have factories that make stuff.  When we shipped those factories to third world countries our economy began shifting to more services and the creation of the inanimate (um – see  In order to feed this beast our education system changed.  No longer do people go to school just to learn.  People go to school so they can learn so they can get jobs so we can feed this beast that we created – even though we don't even remember why the hell we created it in the first place.

This begs the important question that no one is asking.  Why do we have student athletes?  The original intent of student athlete was rooted in the notion that it was important to be a well-rounded person.  Being a well-rounded person involved being both well-informed and a well-tuned semi-athletic person.  Colleges began having people (ok – mostly men) do athletic activities.

We seemed to have moved far away from this notion of a well-rounded college person.  Why?  Well, colleges have changed in their purpose and thus changed in how they are run.  Specifically, how colleges are funded has changed drastically over the last few years.  Colleges use to be paid for by the wealthy elite that could afford to attend their institutions.  I mean, let's be real here – what 1700's farmer could afford to send their kids away for several years to attend college?   It isn't like Joe Farmer had Pell grants.  Now colleges are funded by a weird mix of stuff.  The elite colleges sit on a huge pile of endowment monies.  The private semi-elite have a mix of endowment/tuition.  The private less than elite just keep raising tuition.  Public colleges pray have a mix of endowment, tuition and some government funding. 

Over the years, non-elite private colleges and public universities have taken a hit at their money belts.  The economic divide between the rich and poor continues to grow.  The economy crashes.  The middle class that could afford to pay tuition lost their jobs.  Public universities saw their government funds slashed.

Let's move to private colleges and public universities.  You use to have a good middle class base (well – for a few decades anyways).  You use to have more government funds.  Now both of those are slashed.  What do you do to get money?  Well, you develop a sports program (I don't have enough space to write about that history).  You make it popular.  You charge people to watch games.  You sell shirts and stuff.  You get your own tv network so people have to pay to watch your games.  You rake in billions.

The pro of this is that private colleges and public universities now have funding.  More non-athletes can attend.  College athletics helps to subsidize costs for many other programs.  The con?  Well, student athletes are pretty much treated as cheap slave labor.  Granted, many times their education is paid for – and let's be honest – they pretty much get a degree without actually having to attend class (shut up – you know it is true).

Okay.  So how do we fix this?  We have thousands of college athletes that are getting pimped out for their talents then thrown away when they are done.

Honestly.  We don't.  Short of changing the structure of capitalism (hahahahahahaha…. Never gonna happen) there is no real fix for what we have created.

We could pay higher taxes to public universities so we don't need college athletes to subsidize the cost of college… but who is going to vote for higher taxes?  We could raise tuition costs to offset the cost… but who is going to pay for that?  We could tax media organization's profits from these costs so that money could go pack into private/public university costs… but isn't that just furthering the problem?

We have created an entire system that tells people they need to be educated to work so they can create stuff so that they can buy stuff so that we can maintain this system.

There is no fix for this.  Nothing will happen.  College athletics are worth billions.  The networks that play NCAA games are worth billions.  Do you really think they are going to let some silly athletes have rights?  They aren't.

If you don't like what is happening, that is ok, but that is as far as this goes – a fleeting emotion.  The system that created this happened a long time ago, and it is only getting worse.​

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