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Jay Bilas argues for colleges to pay student athletes

“The problem I am trying to solve is one of fundamental fairness."—ESPN Jay Bilas said of the NCAA amateur model.
“The problem I am trying to solve is one of fundamental fairness."—ESPN Jay Bilas said of the NCAA amateur model.
After years of collegiate athletes not receiving compensation, Jay Bilas— a
college basketball analyst for ESPN —is making a case for paying the players.

Bilas, Trinity '86 and Law '92 , advocated that student athletes should receive compensation because sports enterprises and universities get benefits from athletes' efforts. The panel, which was led by professor of law Paul Haagen, discussed the amateurism model at the School of Law Monday.

“The problem I am trying to solve is one of fundamental fairness,” Bilas said during the panel discussion. “[NCAA is] running a professional sports organization and I don’t think it’s fair that only one class of people is restricted to their expenses only and nothing more.”

Bilas was a four-year starter on the men's basketball team as an undergraduate and helped lead the team to the National Championship game in 1986. He was selected in the fifth round of the 1986 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks and has played professionally for teams in Italy and Spain.

Amateur athletes at one point received pay for their performance, but the current amateurism model of the NCAA strictly forbids student athletes from receiving a salary for participating in college sports, Haagen said.

“The definition of amateurism under NCAA is essentially somebody who gets paid only as much as what NCAA says they should be paid,” he said.

Bilas said it is unjust that other agents of the sports enterprise are getting benefits from athletes’ burdens and sacrifices without giving them equitable compensation.

“It’s not just the jerseys, but the players have value in every t-shirt, every banner and everything that is sold in the industry," Bilas said. "It’s unfair that the players are not allowed to realize that value."

In addition to generating large revenues for the NCAA and its member institutions, college athletics also play a part in college ranking, Bilas added.

“A lot of schools use athletics for institutional advancement and yet they are implying that scholarship is pay and that is enough,” he said.

If student athletes received pay, it would not diminish the educational experience of their peers, Bilas said.

He added that collegiate athletics should be treated the same way as any other industry in the free market, and compensation for student athletes should be determined by market demand. Colleges could consider spending less money on the facilities that they use to attract student athletes and instead use that money to pay them, he said.

“If it’s free market for everybody else but not for the players, then we’ve got a problem,” Bilas said.

Mesha Sloss, a first-year law student, said she disagreed with the view that college athletes should be paid as it would be difficult to regulate how much athletes receive.

“I don’t think it changed my position on the issue, but it’s definitely good to hear the other side of the story and it makes you more aware,” Sloss said.

Gilad Berkowitz, a second-year law student, commended Bilas for leading the campaign.

“He is leading a well-worthy campaign and he is a great advocate for it," Berkowitz said. "He is definitely going to carry weight in moving it forward in the near future."


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