Opinion

Politicians Should Keep Their Hands Off NCAA Scholarships

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Posted: Nov 27, 2019 12:01 AM
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Politicians Should Keep Their Hands Off NCAA Scholarships

Source: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

The NCAA Board of Governors recently announced it would finally allow college athletes to receive compensation from their name, image, and likeness. 

For example, if a football player appears in a video game they can earn revenue from the use of their likeness. Or if a volleyball player has a large social media following she could charge an appearance fee to teach at a summer camp.

But some politicians saw the news as an opportunity to tax student-athlete scholarships.

Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) tweeted:

"If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income. I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to ‘cash in’ to income taxes."

While not commenting directly on the tax question, another remark from Utah Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) shows politicians are eager to meddle in the issue. "I don’t think you can have an athlete at a school making a million dollars at that school and lording it over everyone else on the team and at the campus," he said. "That’s what they’re going to get when they go pro. When they’re at school, they’re still a student-athlete and there has to be some limit to how much money is coming to an individual and there has to be a way to get compensation to other members of the team."

To be clear, there is no pending legislation bearing his views. And, it should be noted, Romney supports NCAA athletes being paid in general.

College athletes deserve every penny they receive from their scholarships and now (finally) their name and likeness. Just because an athlete finally has the chance to earn a few thousand on the side, it shouldn’t give a green light to the government to reach in and tax their scholarship.

Only 1 in 54 high school athletes make it to Division I. Everyone who makes it to the collegiate level has spent thousands of hours practicing their craft, often starting as young as 7. They are hard workers, on and off the court, who struggled hard to get where they are. Like any other worker they deserve to profit from their effort.

These athletes aren’t just helping themselves. In 2018, college sports programs generated over $14 billion dollars. The University of Michigan makes $53.6 million dollars annually from its football program alone. With college athletes making their schools this much money, it’s only fair they have the option to earn some form of compensation other than just scholarships.

While directly paying the players may or may not be feasible, they should at least be allowed to profit from their image without jeopardizing their scholarship.

Many athletes come from tough low-income neighborhoods. A report from The National College Players Association revealed that 86% of college athletes live below the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, the average Division I football or basketball player makes $121,048 and $265,027 respectively for their schools.

 These athletes were not only being robbed of their rightful earnings. They were being kept poor despite generating six figures.

Often times, their scholarships are the only way for them to afford college. Most players won’t profit much from their college careers even with the rule change. Taxing the scholarship of every player that chooses to ‘cash in’ on their likeness would result in many students being unable to afford an education.

If a Division I rower makes a few hundred dollars from a commercial for a local car dealership, should his scholarship be taxed? The vast majority of college athletes – like tennis players, swimmers, and lacrosse players – would only make a minimal amount of money.

If these politicians came out with a fact-based and detailed plan many would still disagree, but at least their opinion would be respected. Instead, United States senators seem overly eager to meddle in the issue and do some perverse virtue signaling. 

One interview stands out. "What you can't have is a couple athletes on campus driving around in Ferraris while everybody else is basically having a hard time making ends meet," Romney told ESPN’s "Outside the Lines." “There needs to be some adjustment to the whole name, image and likeness approach to make sure we don't create those problems." 

Mitt Romney is worth $250 million. He owns six homes. One of these homes, in Park City, Utah, is worth $8.9 million. The senator has numerous cars and watches. He attends expensive galas in even more expensive suits. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t begrudge others the same opportunity.

American politics has always had a dash of hypocrisy, but even for 2019 this level of hypocrisy is a new low.

Why can’t college athletes, most of whom come from poverty, enjoy the same luxuries politicians shower on themselves? Instead of finding new ways to micromanage and tax our athletes, let’s congratulate them for finally receiving the opportunity they deserve. Politicians should exercise some humility instead of barging through the door with TV cameras, and leave the student scholarships alone.