Stand for the rights of workers — the athletes — in the big business of college sports

I see opportunities for lesser athletes, too, like the walk-on who’s also a prolific blogger.

SHARE Stand for the rights of workers — the athletes — in the big business of college sports
Quarterback Jalen Hurts of the Oklahoma Sooners looks to throw against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Sept. 28, 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma.

New NCAA rules would allow college stars, such as Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, to profit on endorsement deals. But, Marlen Garcia writes, the door to opportunity also would open for less accomplished athletes.

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California has a new law that will allow college athletes to get endorsement deals starting in 2023, and it has me thinking about the benchwarmers.

Athletes across the country should be able to cash in without sacrificing their eligibility to play in college. If new rules were adopted nationally by the NCAA, the nation’s best college athletes, such as Oklahoma star quarterback Jalen Hurts or University of Illinois basketball player Ayo Dosunmu, would be able to profit considerably while in college.

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But I see opportunities for lesser acclaimed athletes, too. The walk-on who is a prolific blogger could monetize his or her talents and fans’ interest in the team. A washed-out swimmer might be able to stay in school after a scholarship is revoked with earnings from the glory days.

Scholarships get revoked a lot. Years ago, when I was a walk-on cross country runner at Illinois State University, a teammate who at one time had been a high school standout lost her scholarship after a few injury-riddled college seasons. She dropped out of school.

This still goes on because, as the NCAA says on its website, “in most cases, coaches decide who receives a scholarship, the scholarship amount and whether it will be renewed.”

When there’s a new coach at a school, look out. Some athletes could be forced out. It’s very much like having new bosses who want to hire people they are comfortable with.

In many sports, such as wrestling and gymnastics, you can find athletes whose scholarships consist of reduced tuition or book money. What’s wrong with athletes cashing in and making a little extra on the side based on their association to the team? It could help pay for school or put a little extra spending money in their pockets.

The NCAA and member schools have said  “maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority.”

That’s a lofty ideal. And it doesn’t deal in reality.

About a decade ago, while covering college basketball for another newspaper, I interviewed two men’s basketball players at Ball State University who told me they wouldn’t bother going to class if an assistant coach didn’t wake them up every morning and make sure they were off to class. They were there for basketball, they told me candidly. This was not news to me.

I also remember, while covering the University of Illinois men’s basketball team more than a dozen years ago, a player’s girlfriend telling me that she was thinking about going to college. She was pretty sure she’d be successful in the classroom after doing much of the player’s school work during his last year at the U of I.

And then there’s the University of North Carolina, which is in a class by itself when it comes to fraud in the classroom. It had fake classes for athletes.

There are many athletes around the nation who actually earn their degrees, but there’s no denying that a good number are there just for sports. Basketball or football are essentially their major fields of study. It’s hard for school administrators or the NCAA to own this publicly because it becomes harder to justify having these athletes and teams at academic institutions. There’s a scholarship in basketball but no degree for leading your team in scoring.

There’s money to be made off the leading scorers at some schools. Sometimes plenty of money. Some money is used to fund other sports, such as softball or volleyball. Money made off the athletes also brings pay days for coaches and school administrators.

Coaches believe they’re the main reason for a team’s rise or fall. There’s some truth in that. But they go nowhere without the players.

And people who make a good buck in this business, like the coaches, athletic directors, university presidents and people who work at the NCAA, feel threatened now.

With money comes power. No one likes losing either. It’s human instinct to fight for your survival. We see it in politics. We see it in religion. We see it in business. We’re seeing it in this business of college sports. People in power want the status quo.

I see a workers’ rights issue. The workers in college athletics — the athletes —deserve more opportunities. Don’t hold them back.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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