Dick Harmon: College amateurism outdated like Olympics?

Published: Friday, July 27 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — BYU punt returner JD Falslev's last day of summer work came on Thursday. In the hot June and July sun, he gathered range balls and took care of the carts at Sleepy Ridge Golf Course in Orem for 15 to 20 hours a week.

In a few days, he'll return to what the Cougars pay him to do with tuition, books, scholarship checks, Nike gear, shoes, per diem money on road trips and all the accessories that come with playing major college football.

Falslev's summer job gave him some pocket change and might buy him some school clothes — if that.

I bet there are some folks in Provo who'd buy Falslev lunch or a round of golf if he'd just hang out with them and talk football now that camp starts next week.

But that is a no-no. He is an amateur college football player.

Is amateurism dead?

In the Olympic Games, which began its latest edition this week in London, it has been dead for a long time with inclusion of professional athletes.

In the NCAA, amateurism tries to live on.

And it's kind of a joke.

The idea floats along in the NCAA with a misused ideal that bucks U.S. labor laws. It rides high on the spine of a set of rules as thick as a telephone book to control and inhibit athletes so their abilities can be cornered, marketed and sold by the school.

NCAA rules are designed to restrict what football and basketball players can do with their own image, reputation and skills — as the NCAA and universities then collect all the money from gate receipts and TV contracts for themselves.

For half a century, the Olympics held onto an idea that only amateurs could compete in the Games. Purists said if we paid athletes, the Games would topple within a decade.

Instead, what we witness in coming weeks is a billion-dollar extravaganza. It's never been more popular or successful, and TV networks clamor to bid for the rights to air the events.

It's time for the NCAA to allow its athletes to earn some of the spoils, according to Patrick Hruby of the Washington Times. He has some great points in a Friday piece titled "The Olympics Show Why College Sports Should Give Up on Amateurism."

If Michael Phelps is allowed to make a bundle of money off his Olympic exploits, why isn't a guy like Falslev or Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, if some business is willing to pay them for appearances, photographs or autographs?

Because the NCAA doesn't allow it.

Nobody's saying colleges have to pay their athletes a salary aside from their education. But if a talent can draw a few shekels on the side, what's the harm?

The main problem, as I see it, is colleges would then get into bidding wars in recruiting by promising revenue arrangements by boosters or other businesses. The SEC, which some argue is doing that now, would have a heyday.

But isn't that free enterprise?

The clock may have just run out on the idea of pure amateurism. It doesn't exist. We do currently pay college players with expensive educations. We then restrict them from earning money by doing what Falslev did this summer, a part-time job picking up golf balls in a field.

In the article by Hruby, he takes us back to the beginnings of amateurism, a puritan idea hatched in old England.

"Specifically, snooty British elites who enjoyed rowing, winning and keeping the unwashed day-laboring masses at arm's length," is where the idea came from.

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