The Ethics Of The NCAA Football Cartel

Joe Nocera rightly points out that of all the kinds of people in the world to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of children, a big-time college football coach is exactly who you would expect to behave in this manner. This is an industry, after all, where “coaches take home multimillion-dollar salaries, while the players who make them rich don’t even get ‘scholarships’ that cover the full cost of attending college.”

Any coach who’s not an idiot is bound to recognize that the top prospects have economic value to the programs that hire them. Any coach who’s not an idiot is bound to recognize that in a competitive labor market, players would earn more than $0 in annual salary. Any coach who’s not an idiot is bound to recognize that he, personally, benefits financially from the existence of a cartel which prohibits paying the players. And you don’t get to be head coach of a major football program by being an idiot. It’s a difficult, intellectually demanding job. If the NCAA proposed a rule setting coaches contracts to a maximum duration of two years and a maximum salary of $150,000, then the coaches would loudly object. They would argue, accurately, that the proposed rule was unfair and exploitative and that generally speaking the formation of this kind of employer cartel is illegal. But to be a coach at a big time football program is, necessarily, to be intimately involved in operating and benefiting from exactly this sort of cartel. To do it on a viable basis, year after year, you really need to harden your heart against the exploitation of young people. To be sure, the standard thing is to exploit teenagers rather than 10-year-olds. The standard thing is to exploit them financially rather than sexually. But using positions of power to mistreat young people for personal benefit is what the job is all about.