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College-athletes of the world, unite!

Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, was quoted in an interview this past Tuesday declaring that the one-and-done rule is “clearly not working for the college game.” It is simple to see in light of recent events that this flawed rule is not the only aspect of college sports failing to benefit the league or athletes. Earlier this month, the FBI implicated a number of big-name NCAA basketball programs in a huge bribery and corruption scandal—as commented previously in “An athletic disgrace.” Similarly, earlier this week, the NCAA finally ruled on the matter of UNC’s recent athletic scandal. The NCAA has ultimately ruled that UNC did not violate any academic rules with its “paper class” fraud, which allowed student-athletes to deceptively maintain their academic eligibility. As we get excited for basketball season here at Duke, it is worthwhile to examine the commotion occurring at the national level of college sports. Such pressing problems with the NCAA remain extremely relevant as Duke, a research university with a Division I sports program, struggles to maintain its balance of top-tier academics with high-level athletics in the current national debate. 

The one-and-done rule as discussed by Silver is just one example of how executives unfairly possess a monopoly of power over student-athletes. Presently, the NCAA encourages unequal and toxic power structures between players, coaches, the public and executives within revenue sports. College athletes receive pressure to perform well from classmates, coaches, fans, strangers and the social media while simultaneously having to maintain their academic eligibility in a university setting. These athletes, although subject to national praise and critique from fans and the media, have little control in other aspects of their role within the NCAA. They do not possess an official body that allows them to dispute game times and other choices that are made beyond their collective wishes. 

Despite all of the internal and external stresses that such athletes are subjected to, their hard work and sacrifices bring in large amounts of revenue for their universities. Their likenesses are used for memorabilia in university gift-shops and their games generate funds for countless media outlets. However, none of these college players are guaranteed a lucrative contract within professional sports leagues like the NBA nor are they guaranteed to graduate with a college degree. For this reason, it is difficult to paint players who accepted such payoffs and “bribes” in the recent FBI probe as immoral or corrupt when they were not guaranteed to fiscally benefit from all of the revenue that they generate for their universities. The current system is inequitable for these student-athletes who are treated like under-paid employees, who work long hours and live by authoritarian rules, without a voice or an organization to protect their rights and interests.

Many revenue-generating student-athletes simply do not possess the authority to change or challenge these issues that affect a large portion of their daily lives. The solution to this clear lack of autonomy and equality is the creation of an organized body, separate from the entity that profits directly from their physical labor, that will possess the authority to negotiate on their behalf. Athletes need informed representatives who will be able to protect their financial interests on their behalf and who will advocate for solutions that will benefit them currently and in the future. It is time to give college-athletes a collective voice, independent of the NCAA.

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