NCAA continues to fight losing battle

It’s long past time to end the charade and pay ‘‘student-athletes’’ like the employees they are.

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Michigan Stadium.

Do paying crowds of more than 100,000 people at Michigan Stadium scream ‘‘amateurism’’ to you? They do to the NCAA.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Have you ever thought deeply about amateurism, what it means to be an ‘‘amateur’’?

Probably not.

The basic definition is a person who engages in a pursuit on an unpaid, rather than a professional, basis. Thus, an ‘‘amateur’’ is defined by what he or she is not: somebody who gets paid for whatever it is he or she does.

Elite college athletes don’t get paid for their work.

We like that. It’s comfortable for the viewers, the cheering, tailgating, bracket-loving, face-painted, gambling fans. It’s an orderly process governing the revenue-producing, entertainment-to-the-masses, ‘‘amateur’’ Division I football and basketball players, in particular. It’s tradition. It’s how it always has been. The way it should be.

The justification for not paying the players is always: Hey, they go to school for free! They study, write term papers and take tests, then they play their sports for fun and fitness benefits in front of large, money-paying crowds.

(Gotta pause to chuckle here.)

Meanwhile, Division I coaches make millions in salaries and have $80 million buyouts, athletic directors make millions, TV networks rake in millions and even some strength coaches — the guys who show you how to lift a metal bar and squat — now earn up to a million dollars a year.

Everything about the ‘‘amateur’’ Division I football and basketball programs in America is professionalized. In fact, in some ways, they’re more professionalized than the NFL or NBA.

For instance, Kevin Stefanski (Browns) and Mike McDaniel (Dolphins) are among the NFL head coaches who make $5 million or less a year. So is the Bears’ Matt Eberflus. College coaches Nick Saban (Alabama), Dabo Swinney (Clemson) and Kirby Smart (Georgia) make more than $11 million annually.

Another definition of ‘‘amateur’’ is ‘‘a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity.’’

Hmm. Does that define Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud or Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter? How about Purdue basketball center Zach Edey? Does it define any starting Division I player at any position?

The whine from critics of change is always: I’d play college football/basketball for free. Man, I had to PAY for my college education.

Yup, yup. Two answers here:

One, you have/had no marketable athletic talent. Two, those ‘‘free educations’’ you refer to often are not received because the players are too busy working at their sports.

No, by any logical reasoning, elite college athletes are workers, employees of the schools. Forget the ‘‘student-athlete’’ malarkey, the term coined by former NCAA dictator Walter Byers to avoid paying college athletes workman’s compensation.

Of course, the NCAA is against this employee concept. The organization is in federal appeals court in Philadelphia, trying to get the judge to reject an attempt by attorneys representing college athletes to treat the players as employees and start paying them an hourly wage.

The NCAA is always against this stuff. It was against extra food for Division I players until hungry UConn basketball star Shabazz Napier shamed them into it in 2014. It was against the name, image and likeness freedoms the players long wanted and finally got through the courts in 2021. And it says this employee craziness will destroy the world as we know it.

NCAA lawyer Steven B. Katz warned the court that athlete-employees ‘‘launches you on the edge of a slippery slope that rapidly takes you somewhere you don’t want to go.’’

Oh, for God’s sake.

Not one Michigan, Notre Dame or USC fan is going to care if a 21-year-old ‘‘employee’’ of the beloved alma mater scores the winning touchdown against a hated rival on a last-ditch fourth-quarter drive. Nobody cares right now that the star player might not have been to a class in weeks. Grade-point average? Ha!

Here we are now, entertain us. That’s the fan mantra.

Sure, it would be much simpler if there were not gazillions of dollars swirling around college sports. Much easier, too, if the stadiums weren’t huge, the games weren’t televised, admission was free, the players practiced very little, the seasons were short, guys wore letter sweaters to the malt shop and — oh, yeah — coaches made minimum wage.

But the NCAA started this. Welcome to its finale, fellows.

As Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in an opinion about the NCAA, the fact it claims amateurism is ‘‘the defining feature of college sports’’ is garbage. The label, he said, ‘‘cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.’’

Can’t blame the NCAA for trying.

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