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Deseret News

Commentary: Athletes won't get paid without penalties

By Jon Oglesby | Posted - Aug 15th, 2014 @ 10:31am

SALT LAKE CITY — In life, people have a tendency to gloss over the downside of an event, and instead hype up the storyline they most believe in.

It doesn’t really matter what it is — if you believe in something enough, you will find a way to glean what you feel to be valuable out of it. It’s just like a conversation with a parent, or a lecture from a teacher; we only pay attention to the parts that we feel support what we want to know and believe, and that means we often overlook the fine print of the situation.

This idea connects perfectly into the fallout of the Ed O’Bannon case decision. For those who don’t know, O’Bannon is a former UCLA basketball star who is suing the NCAA for monies that were made by the sale of his image. Last week, a judge ruled that current athletes like O’Bannon were eligible for payments and that athletes in revenue-generating programs deserved to receive a portion of the revenue.

The argument over whether or not to pay college football players has been going on for decades, but the voices in support of paying players have grown louder over the years. Stories of athletes going hungry and not being able to afford basic living costs have fueled a public campaign conducted by former college athletes against the NCAA, and have created a ground swell of support for their cause. Obviously, the NCAA and its institutions have balked at paying athletes, as they believe it goes against the fundamental nature of college athletics. However, the public has continually affirmed its support for players’ desires to get paid.

However, very little has been written or talked about regarding how a ruling like this could potentially hurt the players. If players were to be granted a share of revenue, one would have to think this could only come through a bargaining agreement of some kind with the NCAA’s conferences. Northwestern’s football players attempted to unionize early this year, and this would have given the players a united front to collectively bargain from.

The players want money, but do they really want what the money will bring? It’s a valid question. Often times, the masses will thirst for more responsibility, but when they get it, it’s often squandered and resented. Players want to be paid for their services, and some parts of me support the notion that employees for a revenue-producing program deserve some of that revenue. But this type of transaction isn’t conducted in a bubble where players get paid without repercussions. It’s just not that simple.

One of the commonly proposed ideas behind paying players is to look at the full cost of attendance for a year of school, and then to pay the players cash based upon that amount. However, how many college freshmen understand that they will then need to use that money to pay the school for academic costs? How many students are prepared to spend that money on housing and meal plans, instead of spending it on frivolous things? That’s a question that isn’t being raised enough.

Also, if players are indeed compensated for their likenesses going forward, one would have to think that they would be taxed for that income, whereas athletic scholarships are untaxed monies. Are players honestly prepared to file tax returns on earned revenue from this ruling? And what percentage of college students understand the actual process of filing taxes? Not as many as you might think.

Obviously, if a player were to be financially illiterate, as studies suggest most American college students are, they would have no concept of saving money to pay for a future tax bill, or hire an accountant to file their taxes in the first place. That lack of understanding, which is perfectly understandable given the age of college athletes, should cause interested parties to ask themselves whether or not they really want to even bring this burden upon themselves.

Fall camp for college football players is a prime example of how good players actually do have it. First off, meals and housing are provided; second, a financial aid officer automatically deposits the scholarship money into the university fund from the team’s scholarship fund. Then, a player meets with a personal academic adviser for student-athletes to build a schedule that will maximize their playing and learning potential. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, doesn’t it?

Now, the point of this column isn’t to paint student-athletes as greedy prima donnas who only want to take from institutions. Instead, it’s meant to get people to understand that no new action happens without an equal reaction, and the reaction is that revenue-based payouts could have implications that complicate things for the athletes.

Nothing in life comes completely free, so why should this issue be any different?

Jon Oglesby

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