The UW Madison is about to do yet another really dumb thing. According to a story in today’s Wisconsin State Journal, Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who will soon (but not soon enough) leave for her new job at Northwestern, is proposing that the school should pay athletes for being students.
That’s right. Blank would pay the players, not for what they should be paid for which is their work on the field and the court, but for just showing up in class to maintain the fiction of the “student-athlete.” NCAA rules actually allow players to get stuff in the way of trophies, rings and other awards for their athletic accomplishments with a limit of $5,980. Why $5,980? Why not round up to $6,000? Because the NCAA is a big bureaucracy and big bureaucracies know that $5,980 looks like they’ve studied the issue somehow and that they know just exactly where the line is between reward and corruption. If they said $6,000 it would sound as if they were just pulling a number out of their ass, which of course is just exactly what they’re doing.
Now a new rule offers the same amount — which is $20 less than $6,000 — for vaguely defined academic accomplishments. So, wait just a minute here. Let’s say you’re a kid who isn’t an athlete. You’re struggling to pay for college, but you get to all your classes, you work hard and you maintain a healthy GPA. Blank will send you a bill for your tuition. But if you do all the same things, but you also have an 80% free throw percentage she’ll send you $5,980. This make any sense to anybody out there?
Well, it does make sense if your goal is to cynically reinforce the cynical notion of the “student-athlete.” That term has always been a lie when it is applied to big time, revenue producing college sports — men’s division one basketball and football. Those players should be paid a fair wage for the billions they produce for others. And, in fact, the transfer portal may have opened the door to that. You can’t pick up a sports page today without reading about some player who is transferring to some school to get a chance to play. I have yet to read a story where the player said he was coming or going for an academic reason.
So, in this way, Blank is cynically (have I used the word “cynical” enough today?) playing both sides of the same game. On the one hand, she wants more players to take the student part of “student-athlete” seriously enough to justify continuation of that scam. But on the other hand, she’s offering an incentive — just short of $6,000 — to use the portal to transfer to the UW. Right now no other Big Ten school and only a fraction of the big time programs are using pay for grades. That will change as schools figure out it’s a back door way of paying athletes.
We can only hope that this will amount to exactly the opposite of what Blank intends — that it will further erode the “student-athlete” hoax and that someday soon the payers will be paid what they deserve for what they do to produce all that money for everybody else.