Despite pushback by the NCAA and many member schools, college sports are moving in the direction of more rights, and perhaps eventually pay, for its players. The process is a long one, however, and many of the most powerful figures in college sports have railed against the idea of college athletes profiting off of their abilities. In 2013, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney threatened that his conference could move to Division III, or a similar model, during the Ed O'Bannon supreme court case. Today, in a New York Times article, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins has similar ideas about Notre Dame's future in college athletics.
Father Jenkins, a passionate defender of his alma mater, has considered the arguments. He agrees that the N.C.A.A. is struggling to find its role on a changed playing field. And, in what may come as a surprise, he suggests that student-athletes should be able to monetize their fame, with limits.
But he adamantly opposes a model in which college sheds what is left of its amateur ways for a semiprofessional structure — one in which universities pay their athletes. “Our relationship to these young people is to educate them, to help them grow,” he says. “Not to be their agent for financial gain.”
And if that somehow comes to pass, he says, Notre Dame will leave the profitable industrial complex that is elite college football, boosters be damned, and explore the creation of a conference with like-minded universities.
That’s right: Notre Dame would take its 23.9-karat-gold-flecked football helmets and play elsewhere.
“Perhaps institutions will make decisions about where they want to go — a semipro model or a different, more educational model — and I welcome that,” Father Jenkins says. “I wouldn’t consider that a bad outcome, and I think there would be schools that would do that.”
Notre Dame has one of the most powerful brands in college athletics, and assuredly one of the most lucrative. In 2014, Indiana finance professor Ryan Brewer gave the school's football program a valuation of $811.5 million, second only to Texas. Jenkins, Delaney, and others may say that they won't pay players if it comes to that, but with that kind of money being made by big programs, it sounds more like posturing more than anything.