The toughest competition for basketball and football players occurs at the Division I level. These sports have both large attendances at games-sometimes, more than 100,000 persons attend college football games– and widespread television coverage.... Absent the rules enforced by the NCAA, the competition for players would stiffen, especially for the big stars...
To avoid that outcome, the NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players....
It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.
Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are blatantly inconsistent with these defenses....
I expressed many of the same thoughts in this article at Forbes. In addition to making the same points as Becker, I slammed on the whole concept of the "amateur athlete" as an outdated holdover from the British aristocracy and their disdain for commerce:
University presidents with lucrative athletic programs will do about anything to distract attention from just how much money their Universities are making off of essentially unpaid labor. Their favorite mantra is to claim they are holding up an ideal of “amateurism.”
The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true “gentleman” did not actually work for a living but sponged off the locals while perfecting his golf or polo game. These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges. Even the Olympics, though, finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.
In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of “amateurism” in any other part of society, or even any other corner of university life, it would be considered absurd. Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers? Economists? Poets?
When Brooke Shields was at Princeton, she still was able to perform in the “amateur” school shows despite the fact she had already been paid as an actress. Engineering students are still allowed to study engineering at a university even if a private party pays them for their labor over the summer. Students don’t get kicked out of the school glee club just because they make money at night singing in a bar. The student council president isn’t going to be suspended by her school if she makes money over the summer at a policy think tank.
In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics. I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.