Len Elmore’s Closing Arguments on Paying College Athletes

Len Elmore is known to a significant segment of college basketball fans because he’s been an analyst for over 20 years. But few seem to know of his years as a New York prosecutor or his Harvard Law pedigree.  

During my recent sit-down with him, Elmore went in on the idea that college athletes should be paid for their services.  

Here’s what he had to say:

“People understand and hear my message, but a lot of people reject my message. Paying kids obscures the education factor and that hurts kids of color more than anybody. Graduation rates are rising and all these positive things are happening. I’m afraid that if you insert paying these kids all of a sudden their focus goes away from doing the right thing and get seduced by stuff that has nothing to do with education. That’s just one thing. I think that’s garbage. How can it be predatory? And I also reject anyone who wants to use the slave analogy, which is obscene.

When you talk about giving somebody free education, free medical while you’re there, cost of attendance stipend, plus room, board and books, tax free. And it’s not supposed to be. Room and board is not attached to the education mission. It’s really taxable but the IRS has turned a blind eye. The bottom line is a benefactor-beneficiary relationship and not an employer-employee relationship. So, in my mind, they’re already getting paid, but in a way that amounts to many benefits, in exchange for them to do the best that they can in school and on the playing field or court. People saying ‘Predatory, predatory!’ Yes, somebody is going to get money.

That money is going to the NCAA, who redistributes over 90 percent of that money from March Madness back to the conferences, who then distribute it to the institutions. Can the institutions do a better job? Absolutely. That’s why we should work to set up anti-trust exemptions so that you can set the salaries for coaches.

I don’t begrudge a coach making five eight, ten million dollars, but at some point you’ve got to draw the line in favor of benefiting the student-athlete. People also have to realize that the money that goes back to the institutions is also used to fund the other sports. To me, that’s a great leadership lesson because you’re also playing for the greater good.

There are so many arguments to be made against this being predatory. There’s nobody sitting somewhere getting rich off college basketball and football. That money is getting redistributed. In my mind, it’s a system that has worked for a long time in theory. Now we’re applying changes, the NCAA knows it has to change and it’s changing. We have to realize there’s no right to play college sports.

If you don’t like the system, then don’t play. Sign and play in the D-League or this new sandlot league for high school players that don’t want to play in college. There are other options. But if you chose to go to college, then you must conform yourself to certain things. Now, there are natural rights that have to be observed. That’s why the O’Bannon case was so important because we have a right to our own likeness.

Therefore, it was decided properly that the NCAA and EA Sports, and others, appropriated the rights and likenesses of all these kids and they should pay them something. The court struck down the payment because it doesn’t have anything to do with the education mission. So that’s something that needs to be worked out. People say it’s a racist system now? No, a racist system would be paying them, which would distract them from what should be the purpose, which is getting an education.”

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