The NCAA Gives In…A Little


Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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12 Responses

  1. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    Seems to me, though, if one wanted to poke a finger into the eye of higher ed, trying to make some scholarships (with perhaps an implication, all scholarships) into taxable income would be a way to do it.

    I’m no fan of how “student athletics” is done on college campuses (it’s worse than a full-time job for the athletes, and faculty are sometimes asked to bend over backwards to do stuff, like unlimited lab make-ups because practice time conflicts with lab) but….if we make scholarships taxable income, there will be people who turn them down and, I guess, don’t go to college. I mean, maybe it should work that way to begin with, where promising athletes go major league out of high school, and then save their money to go to college later on….but taxing athletic scholarships feels more like a, I don’t know, emotional response to how someone feels about higher ed rather than a “this is actually a fairness issue” or something.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Luckily, introducing a bill in Congress is still little more than a bit of public signalling and political theater.Report

  3. It is always worth keeping in mind that the distinction between professional and amateur athletics is not and never has been nearly so straightforward as we tend to imagine. The ideal of amateurism arose in England, where it was overtly a matter of class, saving Oxbridge boys from competing with working class men who rowed for a living. In its most extreme version, one rowing association disqualified anyone who had ever held a job involving manual labor. Look up the incident of John Kelly, Grace Kelly’s father, to see where this led. Nothing this blatant could ever fly in the US, but a more discreet version could. College football became big in the 1890s. Various schemes arose at the same time to bring in ringers. There was a lot of effort (not entirely successful) put in to ensuring that players were actual students enrolled in the school. The athletic scholarship was the natural way around this: pay the player’s tuition, and don’t look too hard at his academics. The earliest version was where the students who were wealthy scions pitched in to pay the lower class jock’s way. This was later institutionalized. It was very controversial at first. It is, after all, compensation for playing. In many definitions of amateurism at the time, this was clearly professionalism. We don’t think of it that way nowadays, but this is mostly due to long habit.

    So turning to the matter of endorsements, if this is as far as things go, in ten years people will think of this as fitting comfortably within amateurism, and forget that it was ever controversial. The concept of amateurism is plenty flexible to accommodate this. So much so that it is hard to see why the NCAA historically has gotten such a hard-on about it. The simplest explanation is reflexive wankerness. There may be some way that the NCAA will lose revenues here, which would make it self-interested wankerness. But I’m not sure. Wankerness is pretty much a core principle of the modern NCAA.Report

    • A. J. Raffles is a character created by Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law, and is to thieves what Sherlock Holmes is to detectives, a brilliant and talented amateur. Why does he steal? Well, he’s university educated and renowned for his cricketing, but doesn’t come from money. If he wants to stay popular and a gentleman, no other source of income is open to him.Report

  4. Avatar Aaron David says:

    At first glance, Burr’s idea makes a certain amount of sense. If this does end up with the students getting paid for things outside of the area, such as using their likeness, then it is income. Full Stop. Much of the other issues seem ancillary; injuries should have always been covered by the schools, no they should not be able to have control over bible verses or eating pasta, etc. But those are also on the schools, for giving into such ludicrous rules in the first place. And once you give an inch…

    But a scholarship is not, at this time, taxable income. Could that change? Sure, as more and more states have budget issues there will be pressure on this untapped resource. Of course, that leads to the iron law of consequences, both foreseen and unforeseen. In the end, I don’t see how this really benefits the student-athletes.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron David says:

      If I go to school on an engineering scholarship, and while in school, I invent a widget and start selling it, why should my scholarship be at issue?

      The income from my widget, sure.

      But the scholarship?Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I was talking about the income from the widget. I brought up scholarships being taxed in the second para to distinguish them, sorry I wasn’t clearer. But I do think that this opens a Pandora’s box, and Burr is just the first example of that. For some people, this would push them outside the fiction of being amateurs, and not in a positive way for the students.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Well the whole tax issue opens a whole can of worms.

        A full scholarship was no big deal when college tuition cost $500 a semester. It’s quite different when they charge $80K a semester and wave it for some pampered legacy student by claiming it’s a scholarship for fencing or lacrosse, just to keep their white enrollment numbers up so they’re one of the “premier” places to the elites to network.

        And that drags in questions about what their actual classes are worth, as classes, versus what that networking and stamp of elite status are worth, and whether such scholarships should count as gifts.

        We’ve built a big house of cards out of a deck of motivated reasoning, and everybody is afraid to touch it.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Aaron David says:

      I think payment to the student for his likeness is taxable income, unless possibly the payment is funneled through the school somehow that avoids it (which is doubtful). What the Senator is tweeting doesn’t make much sense in that he seems to be saying that if an athlete receives something from stream A (such as for product endorsements), he or she should be taxed on stream B (scholarships). Maybe the tweet lacks sufficient character(s) to evaluate.

      Scholarships are currently taxed if they are compensation for services to the school; so one can see that the arrangement is right up to the line as it is.Report

  5. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    “If an athlete is injured while playing, the institution has zero legal responsibility for his care.”‘

    Schools are always going to have liability under state law concepts of negligence and/or premises liability. The NCAA also requires schools to provide an insurance policy for athletically related injuries up to a certain amount, and most schools will cover all such injuries above the student’s own health care policy. (BTW/ our daughter’s school required us to show proof of healthcare insurance coverage, or they were going to add health care insurance to the bill and she’s not an athlete. Don’t know how common this is.)

    NCAA also provides disability insurance coverage, but I don’t know if schools can pay for it or do. It basically insures against the risk of a college injury precluding a professional career after graduation.

    There are probably gaps here and there, but “zero legal responsibility” isn’t accurate.Report