Taxation Without Representation: A Bad Solution to Collegiate Athletics

A month ago, the NCAA announced it would set up a committee to help create solutions that would potentially allow student-athletes to profit off of their own names, images, and likenesses. The decision has sparked plenty of conversation and debate, particularly from the right.

Among those who inserted themselves into the debate was U.S. Senator Richard Burr. Burr, a 14-year Senator from North Carolina, announced on Twitter that he wanted to propose a bill that would change how collegiate athletes are viewed by the government. The proposal was to force student-athletes who make money on their likeness to pay taxes on the scholarship money they receive. 

Burr’s proposal is unfair and punitive. Scholarships are not sources of income, and it is incredulous that they should be treated that way for student-athletes only.

Burr is perpetuating a double standard between college student-athletes and college students. While any other student can make money on the side and even use their likeness if they so choose, student-athletes have never been allowed to do so. In no other situation would a student be forced to treat their scholarship as income.This inequality of treatment between students and athletes is wrong, regardless of intentions.

After talking to two student-athletes at Michigan, it is pretty clear that allowing students to market themselves would be beneficial. Ben Flanagan, former Michigan Cross Country and Track athlete and 10k National Champion discussed with me the value of his scholarship and his preference for allowing athletes to market themselves.

“As an international student from Canada, a scholarship provided me with an opportunity to compete in the NCAA, when I otherwise would not have.” He also went on to note that while his college experience probably would not have changed much had he been able to market himself, could help him and others in athletics. “I am really happy to see that student-athletes have more control of their likeness, are now free from these restrictions and can financially benefit from something they’re very good at.”

Ben also discussed his national championship victory in the 10k last year. It was a moment that helped expand his profile, and eventually led him to sign a contract with Reebok. He was able to capitalize on this moment because of his ending eligibility, but had he been forced to stay in college for more years. he would have had to “delay [those] opportunities,” and hope they were available after graduation or go pro. This would have made it tough for Ben to get the degree he was hoping for while also pursuing his goal of running professionally. 

This intentional limiting of Ben is unfair. As a writer, I am allowed to write for this organization and freelance and make money if I so choose. Other students can start youtube channels and sell art their own art if they want to make money. However, Ben and other student-athletes are treated differently.

Burr is perpetuating a double standard between college student-athletes and college students. While any other student can make money on the side and even use their likeness if they so choose, student-athletes have never been allowed to do so.

A good example of an athlete who was taken advantage of by the inability to capitalize on her own marketability is Kateyln Ohashi. Ohasi was a gymnast at UCLA, and had a floor routine that went viral after scoring a perfect 10. Despite this, she earned no money from her television appearances and other marketing opportunities that were made off of the performance.  

Christy Cutshaw, Junior diver for the Michigan Swimming and Diving team and member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, mentioned that she thought allowing students to market themselves would be helpful even though she did not stand to make much money. “There’s going to be a lot of grey areas at first,” Christy noted, but once it “smoothed over” it would be much better for everyone involved. 

While allowing students to have rights to their own name and likeness is a positive step, Senator Burr’s response is completely inappropriate. It is clear that student-athletes need their scholarships. Choosing to punish athletes who market themselves and taking advantage of their financial aid is wrong.

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About Noah Garfinkel

Noah is a Junior with a major in History and a minor in Chinese. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for the Michigan Review and a member of the AEI Executive Council at Michigan. He is also a sprinter for The Michigan Running Club. In his free time he loves to read and play basketball.