Why President Trump Should Pick A Fight With The NCAA
Donald Trump has promised to drain the swamp, unleash business, create jobs, fix a rigged system, and make America great again. Taking on college sports amateurism would be good place to start.
John Blackie-USA TODAY Sports
Dear President Trump,
Congratulations! You did it. Proved all the haters and losers wrong. You're the President of the United Freaking States of America. Welcome to Washington.
Of course, you're not coming here to fit in. You're here to win, so often and bigly that we all get bored of it. And that means keeping your campaign promises. Matching your deeds to your words. Or Tweets. Whatever. People—many people—are saying you're not up to it. So here's a suggestion to make the sports part of America great again, and we know you love sports. As a bonus, it involves two of your favorite things—picking public fights, and sticking it to doubters.
Intrigued? Good. Here goes. It's time for you to take on the National Collegiate Athletic Association. And to take up for college athletes.
Make it so they can get paid.
Your campaign was many things. A movement. A ratings bonanza. A wooden stake driven directly into the heart of Billy Bush's career. But above all, it was a thumb in the eye to the status quo. Mr. President, let me tell you about another rigged system. It's called amateurism. It's a system built around the idea that college athletes should not be allowed to be paid for their labor, even though they are, in fact, working—and generating tremendous economic value through their self-sacrifice, industriousness, and hustle. Literal hustle, like diving for loose balls and being hospitalized for working out too hard.
You're a sports fan. And a businessman. In fact, you've been in the sports business. So you already know that major college sports are a multibillion-dollar industry. And you know that athletes have value. Heck, you once made Doug Flutie the highest-paid player in professional football. You did that because you had to compete—had to outbid the NFL, as well as your fellow USFL owners, to sign a great, great college quarterback. The best. Everyone was talking about him. You wanted to win, and you paid the price.
But that's not how it works in the NCAA. In college sports, schools agree not to compete. Because they're scared. They want to keep all the money to themselves. So they punish successful, hard-working athletes, telling them they can have tuition, room, board, and maybe a small stipend—and not a dollar beyond that. Everybody knows that Deshaun Watson was worth way more to Clemson University than the value of his athletic scholarship. In the real world—your world—he'd be able to cash in, take gifts from boosters, a salary from his school, endorsement dollars to slap his name on branded products, like hotels and steaks. In the real world, Deshaun Watson and many, many other athletes would be able to cash in.
But no. That's not allowed. Because they're amateurs. Meanwhile, coaches and administrators get richer all the time, mostly because (a) they make the rules and (b) enforce them, too. Funny how that works. Like I said, it's a rigged system. Sad! Just the sort of thing you've promised to blow up.
Mr. Trump, you've promised to unleash the power of American business—big and small—by eliminating stifling regulations. Well, guess what? NCAA amateurism produces nothing but stupid, pointless rules. So dumb. Dumb like you wouldn't believe. A few years ago, Louisiana State University baseball player Chris Sciambra suffered a potentially life-threatening neck injury during a road game, and was flown back to Baton Rouge, La. on an Auburn University private jet. His father had to drive home separately—because joining his ailing son on the plane might have violated NCAA rules. Which ones? No one really knew. But better safe than sorry.
Over the years, the NCAA's 400-plus page rulebook has covered whether coaches can serve their players bagels; whether those bagels can be topped with cream cheese, jelly, and other condiments; and when Gatorade should be served instead of chocolate milk. It has prevented rowers from betting their racing shirts against each other, and coaches' wives from sending Christmas cards to new recruits. That's right—the NCAA has fought the War on Christmas!
Mr. President, wouldn't you like to light that rulebook on fire? Wouldn't you like to take a picture of those flames and post it on Twitter?
You've made jobs your top priority. You said that you'll be the job-creatingest president the country has ever known. Let's do some math. There are roughly 13,000 football and men's basketball players at the 129 major NCAA sports schools. That's roughly 13,000 campus jobs just waiting to be created. And the best part is, you don't even have cut a deal to make them happen. You just have to speak up and be honest about what they already are! Only don't take my word for it. Ask the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled that, duh, 40-60 hours of major college football is work, even though the NCAA tries to pretend otherwise with politically correct terms like "student-athlete."
Oh, and you know what's great about college sports jobs? They can't be outsourced. No one's shipping them to Mexico. They'll stay right here, making America great again. Making America rich again.
Speaking of rich: big-time college sports are a $10-12 billion-a-year industry. Football and men's basketball players receive about 10 percent of that. In a free market, like in pro sports, they'd likely receive closer to 50 percent. So by overturning NCAA amateurism, you'd be creating real wealth for thousands of young Americans. Big, big win. Plus, you know who would benefit most? African-Americans. A community you've specifically promised to help, a group your haters say you don't care about. Wouldn't it feel good to prove them wrong? I've calculated that amateurism strips black athletes and their families of $2.2 billion a year. Moreover, it turns makers into takers, forcing productive, talented young men to rely on government giveaways like Pell Grants and food stamps. Don't you want to be the president who gave college athletes, especially black college athletes, a leg up instead of a handout?
Look, taking on the NCAA won't be easy. The organization is a powerful incumbent, the ultimate insider, well-connected in Washington. It is ready, willing, and able to lobby the government to get what it wants, and to preserve its sweetheart status. Moreover, college sports amateurism is a cultural tradition, the way things have always been done. People, many people, will say this is a losing cause. That it can't be done, and that you shouldn't bother to try.
Remember: those same losers said you couldn't be president! You didn't listen then. Don't listen now. You're Donald Trump. You're here to Drain the Swamp. Right now, Washington is divided. Our country is divided. You've said you want to bring Americans together. This is a chance to heal our partisan wounds. Amateurism is an affront to free market capitalism. True conservatives will support you. The NCAA system also impoverishes workers to make a handful of managers rich. Real liberals will have your back. Obama couldn't get Democrats and Republicans to work together. Do this right, and you'll show every last loser that, yes, you can.
Mr. President, your campaign—your entire life, really—has been about one thing. Making great deals. Why not give college athletes an opportunity to do the same? It's a no-brainer. Unless, of course, you don't really mean all the things you've said. If that's the case, I guess you'll fit right in with Washington, after all.