By Kavitha A. Davidson
College Sports Journal
NEW YORK, NY. — Notre Dame and Under Armour Inc. have signed a 10-year apparel deal worth $90 million that is reportedly the largest in college sports history. Remind me again how the NCAA is still an “amateur” league?
According to Bloomberg News, the company plans to use the university in global marketing campaigns and social media initiatives, benefiting from the popularity of a team of unpaid student-athletes. The contradictions in the deal were reflected in Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick’s statement yesterday: “In as much as this represents the largest financial commitment ever made by a brand to a university, it will provide the critical resources we need to enable our student-athletes to compete at the highest levels.”
Add this deal to the multitude of high-dollar reasons that the farce of NCAA amateurism should be toppled. There’s the Iowa State University athletic director making almost $1 million a year who opposes reforming the National Collegiate Athletic Association; the sanctions we see levied season after season against athletes who are poor (and some who are not so poor) selling their signatures to pay for school supplies or even tuition; and, of course, the huge stock of merchandise sold bearing the numbers and likenesses of athletes who don’t see a dime of the profit. Thanks to Jay Bilas, the NCAA admitted it was wrong in that last case and agreed to stop selling memorabilia, but schools will continue carrying jerseys and hats and conducting their million-dollar business as usual.
These arguments aren’t new, and the call to fairly compensate the unpaid labor force of student-athletes has been ringing for years, but every time a deal like this is struck, it presents the opportunity to pressure the NCAA into doing what’s right, as Bilas did. So I ask again: If Notre Dame can profit off the cache of the Fighting Irish moniker, why can’t athletes bank on their own?
Last week, my colleague Jonathan Mahler noted the ludicrous argument the NCAA puts forth in its rules prohibiting athletes from signing endorsement and merchandise deals like the one Notre Dame just signed: Depriving them of monetary compensation actually “protects” student-athletes from commercial exploitation. No word yet on who protects them from the NCAA.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)