Letter to the Editor: President Crow, King of Innovation, stalls on college sports

An ASU alumnus explores issues of athlete pay

This letter to the editor was submitted by Cameron Miller, an ASU alumnus who received a Master's of Sports Law & Business in 2017. 

For a university president who stresses innovation, disruption and progress in higher education, Michael Crow is decidedly in favor of the status quo in college athletics. 

In an interview with The Arizona Republic two weeks ago, Crow offered his thoughts on the state of college sports, fiercely defending the amateur ideal undergirding university athletics and expressing his opposition to players being paid above and beyond the level of their scholarship.

What Crow failed to explain was that athletes generate billions for their schools and athletic departments, yet they see only a sliver of the proceeds. Much of the money is pumped into coaching salaries, facility upgrades and other sports programs and away from those who generate it. What Crow terms a “silly idea” — paying college athletes a salary commensurate to their work and worth — most others would call “capitalism.” 

Crow also derided policies reminiscent of the “Olympic Model,”  which would allow athletes to be compensated by third parties (e.g. apparel companies) for the use of their name, image and likeness. Though non-athlete ASU students are able to do precisely that without any sort of penalty, Crow finds the practice odious in the context of athletics, telling those who want to “be paid to be an athlete, then you should be a professional athlete.” 

Crow then undermines his own point, saying, “Almost no college athletes become professional athletes." But if that’s so, then the prime athletic earning years for the vast majority of athletes come during college — years during which Crow demands they remain “amateurs.” 

Crow saved his harshest criticism for the “one-and-done” phenomenon in college basketball, which sees top athletes play in the NCAA for one season before entering the NBA draft. 

Evidently, he’s spoken with Bobby Hurley, ASU’s men’s basketball coach, “about not recruiting those types of players” — even though those athletes are often the ones with the greatest talent and potential to take the program to greater competitive heights. In other words, Crow seems willing to sacrifice winning for avoiding players who attend college out of necessity, not interest.

What a man of principle.

Except, that principle is grounded in the flawed notions that college athletes cannot be paid a market wage and also remain students, and that leaving school early to pursue a lucrative career (as some college students do) is contemptible. 

In fact, many students at ASU and other universities learn and earn simultaneously with little to no criticism. Crow’s one-and-done comment also ignores the possibility that by paying college athletes closer to their true value, the opportunity cost of delaying a professional sports career would decrease, which may lead players to stay in school longer

Michael Crow is one of the great pioneers American higher education. But his comments on college athletics lack that same vision and desire for progress. As it has in other areas of the academy, ASU has the opportunity to write a new chapter in college sports — one that treats players fairly and compensates them justly — and it will take Crow’s leadership to spur that change.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this letter to the editor are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

Reach the author at cmille62@asu.edu or follow @C_C_Miller on Twitter. 

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 500 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

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