The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the body in charge of collegiate athletes’ fitness and long-term success. There are 1,121 colleges in the NCAA, and 99 voting athletic conferences. Even though the NCAA is huge and attracts a lot of coverage, it also engages in unethical activities. In my paper, I will discuss how the ethical complication that arises are two very big issues in collegiate sports at the present time and that is the non salary payments to the athletes and the exploitation off the athletes despite the billions of dollars in profits that the NCAA intakes annually off of their athletes names. The issues of fairness, autonomy, and social responsibility come into play when looking at the exploitation of the athletes. I believe the normative theory that best resolves this issue is deontology, which holds that there is no justifying a means to an end, and that certain acts such as lying are wrong in and of themselves independently of their consequences.
The NCAA possesses an enormous amount of control over the young men and women they oversee and they tend to exercise that power to exploit their unrecognized labor force and generate billions of dollars in revenue, while restricting the amount of compensation the athletes receive to a figure that is well below what a free market will bring (Bolton 1). My case study for this paper is none other than Johnny Manziel who is better known around the globe as “Johnny Football.” In a study that was done by Texas A&M, it was found that Manziel generated 37 million dollars from media exposure during his freshmen year alone at Texas a A&M (The Sport Digest 3). After his play in his freshmen year, the name “Johnny Football” stuck with him and he later filed to have the name trademarked. However, the NCAA tried to step in and cited that under their regulations, Manziel was not entitled to one cent of the money he generated for them that season. He in turn sued the NCAA, which led the NCAA to later close the loophole that allowed the athletes to trademark their name and is compensated. The big question is, “why would the NCAA fight tooth and nail to stop a kid who may be from a low income background to be fairly compensated, but would cover up scandals in order to keep their schools sports prestige to the highest degree?” For example, the scandal at Penn state involving Jerry Sandusky and his molestation of kids at a camp that was covered up for year was just recently brought to the general public’s attention because many people inside the program were aware of it and stated they “tried” to alert the proper channels.
From a deontologist prospective, an individual will focus his or her attention on the moral principles as duties. Individuals have moral duties to do things that are right to do and moral duties not to do things that are wrong (Hooker 47). To a deontologist, whether something is right or wrong does not depend on consequences, but rather whether an action is right or wrong in itself. For example, if someone is a parent, they have a moral duty to provide for their child. Failure to pay individuals who on most accounts are sacrificing their health and a significant amount of their time is wrong in itself and using them as a means to generate large sums of money for schools is unfair, which leads to the issue of fairness. Fairness is acknowledged as fulfilling an individual’s agreed upon role in a just system. James Schulman adds, “fairness requires treating equally individuals in the same circumstances and avoiding undeserved favoritism” (Shulman and Bowen 300). It is unreasonable for every individual to expect a fair wage in return for their services rendered, but a most honorable estimation of a D 1 football scholarship value over a full 4 year stint is around 230,000 thousand dollars.
However, all of that money is tied up in the costs that are associated with the school, for instance, room, board, tuition, and fees. The university nevertheless, can expect to rake in annually anywhere from 80 million to 400 million dollars (Berkowitz 3). In that scenario, an athlete is receiving under one percent of the revenue they are clearly responsible for generating and you must ask yourself, would it be unreasonable of them to ask for a little more? According to world-renowned deontologist, theorist Immanuel Kant, on the categorical imperative, he says “for rational beings all stand under the law that every one of them ought to treat itself and other never merely as a means, but always at the same time as end in itself” (Hooker 52). The meaning of that statement is that rational individuals are not prohibited from using one another to achieve their goals in life but, they must not use another merely as a means to achieve their own ends. If you treat an individual merely as a means, then you fail to respect that person rational nature. Immanuel Kant is speaking for basic respect of individuals and for my paper, the example is how the NCAA and universities are using the athletes as merely as a means to generate revenue.
As noted, the health and wellbeing of the athletes are not a concern to the powers that is the NCAA. There will always be stream of athletes coming through the college system which ensures that the talent will never be dry and if you add this with a scarcity of alternatives for the athletes, it is observed that the athletes are being used solely for generating streams of money for them. However, fairness not only stops there. The NCAA can, and does enforce violations and suspensions for anything they deem to be a severe violation (Hanson and Savage 1). For example, A. J. Green who is now in the NFL attended the University of Georgia a few years back and he was suspended for a total of four games for selling of his jersey. A former Ohio state running back by the name of Daniel Herron was suspended for five games in 2010 for selling his jersey, pants, and shoes for $1000, which was the same amount as Green. In the issue of fairness, we must ask why Herron was given a five game suspension while Green was received four only. Still, Herron was allowed to participate in an All State Sugar Bowl game as were fellow violating star players on the team. Was he allowed to play because the school was participating in a bowl game that is unlike any other game that is sure to generate far more money because it is nationally televised? If we continue with fairness, when Green attended Georgia, his jersey was for sale varying from 60 to 150 dollars. If we are talking about fairness, this would involve Green receiving some, if not most of the money generated from his name, especially given that the university is selling or alternatively, be allowed to sell his jersey on his own. A question can be posed that, “would Green or Herron be suspended if they sold their merchandise? Conversely, because they coincidentally play college sports, they are not allowed to sell their own property. Perhaps if they were being paid some wages they would not have to sell.
If we allow ourselves to look at the aspect of autonomy the system that is the NCAA fails the moral requirements of deontology as well. Playing college football or basketball is a voluntary sport. An issue comes into play when we focus on football; there are no legitimate alternatives for the individuals whose ultimate goal is to play in the NFL. Yes, there are other leagues such as the arena league, but those are not realistic thoughts for an eighteen-year old whose ultimate goal is to pursue an opportunity to play in the NFL (Berkowitz 3). The other leagues do not receive the same media exposures that even some of the worst college programs do. Player autonomy is also inhibited by the rules that are imposed by the NCAA when they restrict what players can do with their meaning of their property. Additionally, this extends to transfer rules. When athletes decide that a university is not the right fit anymore, transfer rules restrict them from attending a university they so wish to transfer to by having them sit out a minimum of a year NFL (Berkowitz 3). An athlete who may aspire to play for a certain coach may get that dream crushed if the said coach leaves for a better opportunity and in order to follow that coach, the athlete must surrender one year of his eligibility to follow his desire.
Consequently, if we were to switch views and examine this issue to a virtue ethicist or a utilitarianism aspect, we would adopt a slightly different take on things. A utilitarian theorist would say that there are no acts that are wrong in and of themselves and that if actions such as killing or torturing are wrong, it is because they produce less good than other alternatives that are available to that person (Hooker). If we were to closely examine the differences between the two theories, it emerges that to a deontologist individual such as Kant, there is a presumption against certain kind of actions. To a utilitarian, not paying the athletes is for the good of everyone involved because they university provides the necessary training and exposure to coaching to advance to the professional level where one may earn plenty more than at the collegiate level, which is taking a risk. To a utilitarian, the end justifies the means, which sees the athlete go to the professional level and make millions of dollars because of the coaching and proper training they received from the collegiate level. A utilitarian view may examine the issue vis-à-vis that of a deontologist and pose the question, “is the act of not paying the athlete inherently wrong?” On face value the answer is no because they can argue that college athletes are like any employees who are working for them in the sense that the employees perform services for a settled wage, so they are not using the employee as a mere means.
In the same breadth, a virtue ethicist theorist views things as doing the right things for the right reasons. The right thing for the universities and the NCAA would be to pay its athletes because it would be the morally right thing to do. An athlete’s schedule is hectic because it involves practices, going to class with the expectation of doing well in order to compete, and their individual weight room sessions. With the games and traveling included, that is an enormous amount of burden on a young person to juggle. A majority of the college athletes come from low income families, meaning that with the schedules they carry they cannot go out and obtain regular jobs to earn money. The morally right thing to do by the NCAA would be to adopt a system that is fair and reward the athletes in good faith with some kind of reimbursement. A virtue ethicist would argue that yes, paying of the collegiate athletes would be the right thing to do, but the action of generating money off of an athlete is not wrong.
To defend the position on why deontology would be best served, we also have to examine why they would believe that alternative theories are wrong in this case. A deontologist would argue that the athletes are not employees, but are just students who happen to compete in an athletic way for their universities. In a greatest happiness principle theory, a deontologist can argue that the only persons who are happy are the universities and NCAA because they are raking in ridiculous amounts of money, while the athletes who bleed and sweat for the program are suffering because they cannot gain any outside revenue. Given that the athletes are so suffering, that act is wrong regardless of justification for the actions. Below is the rate of exploitation of football players at big time college programs. It shows just how unfairly these athletes are being treated by the individuals who are tasked with looking out for them.
Rate of exploitation
Expense Per Athlete
Table 1: Adapted from Romeo (1)
To a deontologist, that act of making so much money off of them (the athletes) versus the little expenses they carry that action is just wrong.
In conclusion, in my paper we closely examined the principles of autonomy, fairness, and respect for people, and it is abundantly clear that college athletes are being exploited in a vicious way in an unjust system that needs to change. I discussed how I believe that deontology best resolved the dilemma because the powers that be are using the athletes as a means to an end for the good of their universities are just plain wrong no matter how they try to justify it, for example, by saying it is just like an employee-employer relationship. An employer does not grossly underpay an employee the way that the NCAA does to it students with the large amounts of money that is ultimately produced by the athletes vis-à-vis their respective expenses tied to the school. The system is clearly not geared towards ensuring fairness for the athletes and is a system that needs to change so it would not be disadvantageous to its athletes since this will be an issue that will continue to have a dark cloud over the organization.
Berkowitz, Steve. “Report quantifies value of college athletes’ images.” USA Today, 22 Oct. 2012, https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2012/10/22/obannon-case-ncaa-documents-roger-noll/1650677/. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
Bolton, Jason. “In college football, Money buys Championships.” Bizjournals.com, n.d., http://www.bizjournals.com/memphis/news/2012/08/29/in-college-football-money-buys-champions.html?appSession. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
Hanson, Kirk O. and Matt Savage. “What Role Does Ethics Play in Sports?” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics – Santa Clara University, n.d., https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/resources/what-role-does-ethics-play-in-sports/. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
Hartmann, Thom. “The Exploitation of College Athletes.” Thom Hartmann Progressive Radio Show, 10 Sept. 2010, https://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2010/09/exploitation-college-athletes. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
Hooker, Brad. Developing Deontology: New Essays in Ethical Theory. New York: Wiley, 2012. Print.
Romeo, Nick. “Does the NCAA exploit student-athletes?” Boston Globe, 22 Feb. 2016, https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2016/02/21/does-ncaa-exploit-student-athletes/OnIF5KDFbt6oYACJlBBsSP/story.html. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
Shulman, James L. and William G. Bowen. The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Print.
“ Ethical Dilemmas in Collegiate Athletics: The Role of Coaches and the Codes of Ethic.” The Sport Digest. 11 Oct. 2016, http://thesportdigest.com/2011/07/ethical-dilemmas-in-collegiate-athletics-the-role-of-coaches-and-the-codes-of-ethic/. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.