Last week I read an opinion piece by Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel, who rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the let’s-pay-college-athletes crowd, advocates taking it one step further: pay kids who play in the Little League World Series.
“No one is really getting ‘paid.’ Call it ‘prize money’ or a ‘scholarship’ or something if it makes you feel better,” he wrote.
Actually, it doesn’t make me feel better. You can call a rhinoceros a field mouse, but it’s still a threat to eat your face if you get too close.
Money is money. If a company gives cash to someone for performing a task, it’s payment. Boys who play Little League baseball are not competing with one another for prize money or a scholarship. This is not Alex Trebek playing host on an episode of Jeopardy.
Wetzel justifies his opinion by comparing a 12-year-old who plays a baseball game televised by ESPN to a child actor performing on TV or in films.
The difference, of course, is that the actor is doing a job. The child is a professional who probably studies to learn his craft, auditions for roles and pays an agent to seek employment opportunities. Little League baseball players purportedly do what they do because it’s fun and maybe they’re good at it, so it gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Let me interrupt myself: I do not think varsity athletes should be paid a salary. I do think athletes who are forced to waive their intellectual property rights by their universities and the NCAA are getting the short end of the stick. Colleges should share revenue with students whose names, numbers or likenesses are pasted on jerseys, T-shirts and other gear.
I’ve wondered why paying college athletes has become such a popular cause. Advocates say that universities reap tens of millions of dollars on the backs of these students, who get very little in return, but this is nothing new.
I don’t know about you, but if I could attend Northwestern, Duke or Ohio State for free and save the four-year cost of tuition, room, board and books that ranges between $60,000 and $200,000, I don’t think I’d complain about being an indentured servant.
The argument goes that many of these students don’t care about getting an education. They are enrolled in school only until they can be eligible for the NFL, NBA or baseball draft.
But the tiny minority of college athletes who go on to have careers as professionals are learning how to play football, basketball, baseball, hockey, whatever their sport of choice. Whatever transition period is necessary to become a big leaguer in any sport is made easier by competing at the collegiate level.
There are other athletes who use their playing experience at a university as the foundation for winning jobs as high school or college coaches, some of whom eventually get jobs at the professional level.
Most everyone else who plays college athletics — the vast majority of students — needs the education to make a living outside of sports. That’s why the contention that these athletes are being short-changed doesn’t hold up. They are training for future employment, and they are receiving these lesson for free.
I suspect that proponents of paying college athletes have another agenda: They resent that some universities — and it’s a minority — raise tens of millions of dollars for their athletic departments.
Why does the University of Texas or Ohio State create revenue streams of $100 million or so just to run their sports programs? Because they can and because they have lots of varsity sports programs to operate.
But do they have to be so greedy? Do they have to pay a football coach $4 million or a basketball coach $3 million? They do if they want to operate successful programs, programs that induce alumni to donate millions of dollars to the engineering school, the med school or the school of education.
If large revenue schools were doing a lousy job, nobody would pay to watch their sports teams, and they wouldn’t be large revenue producing schools. The more skillfully athletic departments are operated, the more money they bring in. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?
So what if Notre Dame and Michigan generate tons of money for their athletic departments? They’re not using it to support slush funds for politicians or betting it at the race track.
Are athletes better off at, say, Washington State or Wichita State, which are not among the large revenue producers, than they are at USC or Wisconsin, which do well in the cash-flow department?
Does the general student population benefit when the athletic department is struggling to break even? Schools in the Mid-American Conference, for example are forced to take a portion of students’ tuition money to keep varsity sports afloat.
Would paying college athletes even be an issue if every Division I university operated on Washington State’s budget?
Do they roast A-Rod’s marshmallows?
We’ve heard a lot about Alex Rodriguez’s “camp” lately. “A-Rod’s camp tried to buy documents from Biogenenis to foil MLB’s investigation,” or “A-Rod’s camp will fight to the end.”
Who is in this mysterious camp? Are they undercover? Do they wear masks and camouflage their voices on the phone?
Is Rodriguez a sullied, but victimized icon surrounded by sycophants? Does he pay dozens of public relations experts, lawyers and troubleshooters to map out his strategies?
These people are never identified by name (except for one attorney of record). Does A-Rod really have a fleet of helpers in his battle to avoid a 211-game suspension for activities with PEDs?
How to do I get my own camp? I want to snap my fingers and have my camp do my bidding or come to my rescue. Is that what A-Rod’s camp is all about?
Do reporters constantly talk and write about Rodriguez’s camp know for certain there is a camp, or is the camp composed of A-Rod, his lawyer and his cousin, in which case I wouldn’t call it a camp but a few weekend campers who fit easily in a small Coleman tent.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.