Thursday, March 27, 2014

Northwestern Decision

Sports radio conversation is focusing on how the decision might affect college athletics – not just football - in general, but they are noting the downstream effects there pretty quickly.  It’s one thing to regard student-athletes as employees of the institution for the purpose of getting them ongoing medical care for injuries sustained while “working” for the university.  But if scholarships are indeed to be regarded as compensation, then won’t the recipients owe taxes on that?  Wouldn’t that necessarily extend to swimmers and tennis players who receive scholarships?  And wouldn’t everyone else on the team be equally an employee and entitled to…something?

Wouldn’t everyone who receives a scholarship start fitting under this umbrella?  Slowly, perhaps, because there would be a lot of reluctance to change things as people started seeing the implications.

The debate team…the college bowl team…the theatrical performances, concerts, and art shows…don’t all those also represent the institution in the same way that an athletic event does? If you get a scholarship for music…hell, if you get a general academic scholarship and decide to play in the orchestra…isn’t that the same?

If the athlete is getting paid via scholarship and owes taxes, doesn’t this cut poor kids out pretty quickly?  (Except, of course, that people will find all sorts of legal or legal-looking loopholes to continue the practice.)

Athletics became associated with schools mostly by accident.  Males of school age are also males of competitive sports age. (Females less so until recently.  They don’t pick up much of the blame for skewing the overall system 100-200 years ago, I don’t think. A little, perhaps.) The guys at North Central were playing games against each other for fun, and thinking they were pretty good, thought they’d put together a team to play against South Central. There were often town teams for baseball or football, and large employers such as factories would organise leagues as well.  Yet those faded while school teams remained, with increasing organisation, rules, and costs.

There has been much hand-wringing in my lifetime about the unfortunate association of college and athletics: the sometimes fictitious “student” part of student-athlete and the tolerance of bad behavior are usually cited.  Envy and cultural competition are part of it as well, because schools get prestige from their athletic teams, and people get paid lots of money that does not, cannot, go to the athletes. I don’t hear many complaints like that at the highschool level, because the money and prestige are less, but you do hear some even there, especially when there are private school scholarships being handed out. (Apparently this is different in Texas and a few other places, but I’m not qualified to make observations on that.)

When I posted a few days ago on our secondary and post-secondary education model a few days ago, this was not at all in my mind.  But this is perhaps another force for change that will remake the landscape.  Online universities don’t have football teams, or students who live together for four years.

1 comment:

james said...

You might be able to draw legal distinctions between athletes/musicians whose events the U charges for and those it doesn't, perhaps.

Somebody was pointing out that the athletes would almost certainly wind up being employees who got a scholarship as a benefit, but a benefit they weren't obligated to use. Which might be all to the good...

My college roommate's cousin was on the football team, and quite sharp (chemistry, IIRC), but from other reports of football and basketball players he seems to have been an exception.