Society and Culture, Education

Is NCAA amateurism a sham?

Image Credit: JMR_Photography (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image Credit: JMR_Photography (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

In 2006, Desmond Howard, former Heisman trophy-winner wide receiver for Michigan, was featured on the cover of NCAA Football, an EA Sports video game where fans can participate vicariously in the most thrilling moments of BCS-era football. Despite selling more than 2.5 million copies and generating millions in licensing fees for the NCAA, Howard, who had not attended an NCAA school for more than 15 years at the time, didn’t get a dime of revenue.

The NCAA has tax exempt status and boasts that it overwhelmingly contributes to the intellectual health of its student-athletes. NCAA athletes regularly graduate at higher rates than their non-athletic counterparts, and thanks to scholarship, tend to do so with much less college debt. NCAA sports programs generate revenues that go towards many other valuable things at colleges.

So, does the current system constitute exploitation or public service?

Tonight at AEI, Pulitzer-prize winning historian Taylor Branch will square off against long-time college president John Lombardi on this very question. The pair will spar over the intricacies of the NCAA system and attempt to explain how the NCAA should move forward both in principle and in practice.

Such a discussion raises serious questions about the NCAA’s tax-exempt status. If the NCAA does not, in fact, promote education and amateurism, why should a multi-billion dollar organization continue to coast tax free? With a growing higher education debt bubble, continued and growing interference of government in higher ed, funding shortfalls for state universities due to state cutbacks, and a generally convoluted federal tax code, the time to ascertain the NCAA’s contribution to public welfare has come. The future of college in America may turn on it.

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