In case you forgot the NCAA ought to be dynamited

August 31, 2020

One of Anne Helen Petersen’s recent newsletter posts, about a pair of twins who are paid by Baylor University as social influencers, neatly summarizes universities’ hypocrisy when it comes to paying intercollegiate athletes.

Petersen underlines that Baylor paying Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight to promote the school makes perfect sense given how institutions have marketed themselves in recent years, that it’s “absolutely, positively in line with the economic positioning of the modern higher ed, which doesn’t market itself as a place of learning so much as a site of lifestyle.” She also points out that Baylor’s deal with the McKnights makes a mockery of NCAA amateurism rules, because what are athletes in big-time college sports doing if they’re not advertising for the school?

You should read the whole thing for Petersen’s discussion about the McKnights’ positive covid tests, their subsequent post, and disaster capitalism, but the bit about sports deserves extra attention.

To put it plainly: Increasingly, universities pay student social media influencers to pump up the universities’ brands. However, that’s also precisely why big-time spectator sport athletics exist, and yet there’s this huge bureaucracy designed to prevent paying athletes for their services. The University of Alabama football team isn’t there so that Tua Tagovailoa would have something interesting to do while on campus; it’s there because the games are something fun to attend for students and potential donors. In theory, having a football team that’s fun to watch is a lifestyle perk which helps the University of Alabama attract more and better students who want being a fan of that football team to be part of their own personal brands. Tagovailoa was one of the main reasons the football team was fun.

Without getting into the specific ethics of whether Baylor should be paying the McKnights to post about the school, it’s more than a little rich that this is happening in the open and yet, by NCAA rule, Alabama wasn’t allowed to pay Tagovailoa. In fact, a football player wouldn’t be allowed to compete on an NCAA team if he made money from an endeavor that exploited his status as a football player, like, say, YouTube videos.

As Petersen explains, the McKnight twins are exploiting their relationship with Baylor to make money — some from the school directly due to their “paid relationship” and some indirectly because Baylor aligns with their social media branding. And yet, the NCAA and member schools persist in blocking athletes from “exploiting” their schools in exactly the same way. For them, the exploitation can only go one way.

(Photo: "Baylor University" by Daniel Huizinga. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)