Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Exploitation, expenses and exercises in legislation

I usually do not care all that much about the exploitation of athletes. Sounds harsh, I know. But I operate from the basic premise that many athletes are exploited, that the level of consciousness of such exploitation is variable, and that those who are aware have done their own cost-benefit analysis. Of course there are plenty of discussions just waiting in those three statements--but they aren't happening now.
In light of NCAA president Myles Brand's recent statements about commercialism and the exploitation of athletes and a radio commercial I heard not too long, I thought I would at least comment briefly on commercialism and intercollegiate sport. Note that it's not an area I am particularly well-versed in beyond the basics.
That said, Myles Brand has some concerns over the current economic hardships. At the recent NCAA annual meeting (at which he was absent because of cancer treatments) his state of the organization address (delivered by proxy) touched on the troubling times. He had previously, in a statement, addressed the economic hardships and warned schools who needed to cut teams not to blame Title IX for the budget woes. But this most recent speech warned athletic departments to watch out for exploitation in their attempts to increase marketing and thus revenues.
This is a touchy subject because what one is marketing when one markets college sports is a team comprised of amateurs--student-athletes to be precise. People who are not getting paid (in the traditional way) for their efforts. So a school engages in a campaign to bolster revenues by advertising its assets--its teams and often the stars of those teams--the All-Americans, the leading scorers, the current players on streaks. And hence the potential for exploitation.
The other day I heard, from my local DI institution, a radio ad from their alumni department seeking alumni support and they used their teams as the selling point. Help the school help the student-athletes who become ambassadors for the school. Help sell the school; help the school; help the student-athletes. It becomes a little confusing about who is being helped by whom but it's clear that you are supposed to support the school because of the work by student-athletes. Again, work for which they don't get paid.
But this isn't exactly what Brand is concerned about. Though he is concerned. His address announced the formation of a committee that will focus on issues of commercialization. The worry right now seems to stem from outside entities--like networks--making money off of the promotion of individual student-athletes. But, of course, the committee will likely have to address other aspects of commercialization at some point--because they are so numerous: merchandise (like jerseys with players' names/numbers); ads in stadiums; etc. And maybe even alumni association solicitations--eventually!
But the only plan to address the potential exploitation is NCAA legislation. More rules. More chapters in the handbook (how big is this thing now?). More meetings about the rules. They all seem like little fingers in the big capitalist dyke. I sure wouldn't want to be an athletic administrator right now.

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