Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers has served in the Nebraska statehouse since 1970. And while I am not entirely familiar with the work he has done on behalf of the good people of Omaha in his 33 years, I am going to go ahead and say that his most recent endeavor may very well be his most brilliant. It seems that Chambers has concocted a dazzling piece of legislation that – Are you ready for this? -enables the University of Nebraska to pay its football players.
I know. Compose yourself.
Chambers, in his statement of purpose for Legislative Bill 688, writes, “Just as the Declaration of Independence spelled out a detailed bill of particulars justifying the separation of the American colonies from England, LB 688 sets forth very precise and specific reasons that lead inexorably to the conclusion that University of Nebraska-Lincoln football players are entitled to compensation in the same manner that other students are compensated when they perform work for the university. Plus, they are the only category of students that produce, rather than consume, revenue.”
Chambers has more for Miles Brand and the boys in Indianapolis: “Because of the plethora of tangled, complicated and often unfair rules imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), big-time college football players are subjected to treatment, restrictions and conditions that would never be tolerated if applied across the board to all students …”
Boo-ya. Stuff that in your antique pipe and smoke it, NCAA. Ernie Chambers 1, Status quo 0.
Chambers proposed similar legislation 15 years ago, but after Nebraska’s unicameral legislature passed the bill, it was vetoed by then-Gov. Kay Orr. This time around, Chambers has found a chief executive – Gov. Mike Johanns – who agrees that the Cornhuskers should share in the bounty of their crop. The proposed legislation in Nebraska would allow for a monthly stipend that would amount to something close to minimum wage, and the bill would not take effect until three other states that have schools in the Big 12 Conference pass similar legislation.
Kansas? Texas? Oklahoma? Let’s get on this thing. The sooner states show that the NCAA’s policies present an unlawful infringement on the labor rights of its student athletes, the sooner the NCAA will be forced to address their antiquated and unsuccessful rules.
There are critics who will question how such a rule change could be reconciled with Title IX and its ambitions of gender equality. For every college football team that turns a multi-million-dollar profit and is thus indebted to its athletes, there is a women’s basketball team that is struggling to stay out of the red. But just as many have suggested that football be exempted from a school’s Title IX consideration because of its size and unique fiscal situation, so too should non-revenue sports of both genders be exempt from legislation that prescribes a stipend.
There are also concerns that the amateurism that is sacred to college sports will be compromised. But the NCAA can make all the rules it wants that prohibit the payment of players, but so many of them will continue to disregard those rules. People are doing it anyway – legalize it and diffuse the bomb.
Of course, the fact that people are doing it anyway is not reason enough to allow for these stipends. The real justification is that so many football players at major college programs (like Nebraska, or Michigan) are exploited by a system that accumulates enormous profit on the backs of unpaid labor. Allowing students to earn a wage off the football field is a step in the right direction, but paying them for the work they do on the field (which generates a penny or two more for the folks at the top than working the circulation desk at the law library) needs to be very seriously considered.
David Horn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.