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Drake Group Finds NCAA Definition of Amateurism Keeps Changing

Release Date:
4/15/2013 9:00 AM

Collegiate sports, NCAA, features  Drake Group, features

WEST HAVEN, CONN. –Since its founding more than 100 years ago, the NCAA has continued to modify its definition of the term “amateur athlete” and has drifted away from its original founding principle that the use of inducements, including scholarships, to recruit college athletes is a blatant violation of amateurism.

So says a new report written by Andrew Zimbalist and Allen Sack, professor of sports management at the University of New Haven and president of the Drake Group, based at UNH.  Zimbalist is the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College and a member of the Advisory Council of the Drake Group. The Drake Group is a national organization of faculty and others committed to academic integrity in college sports.

The report was issued today in response to an ongoing lawsuit filed by Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, and other former and current athletes claiming that they deserve some of the revenue the NCAA collects by marketing and selling video games, television rights, and licensing rights using their performance, photos and likenesses.

“Allowing former and current college athletes to share revenue from the NCAA’s sale of their images, likenesses, and names is no more a violation of amateurism than paying for their educations, or conditioning the renewal of their scholarships each year on athletic performance,” Sack said. 

The report notes that the current NCAA manual does not allow pay except as permitted by the governing legislation of the association. In short, said Zimbalist, “amateurism in intercollegiate athletics is whatever the NCAA says it is, and most judges have accepted the NCAA’s arbitrary uses of the term without question.”

Although the NCAA has argued in the O’Bannon case that its restrictions on sharing income from the use of athletes’ images, likenesses and names are necessary in order to promote balance in competitive outcomes and financial solvency for athletic programs, the report found that the policy does neither.

The revenue collected by the NCAA is shared inconsistently, the report says, and “none of the $467 million is allocated according to the academic success of student-athletes or to other measures of school education success.”

“Restructuring these NCAA distributions, then, would be desirable not only from the perspective of competitive balance, financial solvency and blunting the incentives toward commercialism, but also from the perspective of encouraging the schools’ focus on educational outcomes,”

The NCAA has claimed that losing the O’Bannon case would lead to the demise of college athletics and the NCAA. The Drake Group report argues otherwise, noting that among other changes that could be made to reduce the cost of college sports, coaches’ salaries could be reduced.

“The compensation of head football coaches, for example, increased 8.3 times faster than that of university presidents and 25 times faster than that of full professors,” Sack said.  “These salaries make little sense economically.”

The report is available on the Drake Group website at

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico and California. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.