Schooled advances the dialogue on paying student athletes

Schooled advances the dialogue on paying student athletes

College sports, with a $12B annual windfall, is big business. In the wake of the O’Bannon lawsuit, pay-to-play scandals, NCAA investigations, and other headlines, there is an immeasurable amount of strain between the antiquated model of college athletics and the commercialism it now represents. The EPIX documentary Schooled: The Price of College Sports, examines the provocative issues surrounding the business, history and culture of big-time college football and basketball. The film suggests that the central issue is the mistreatment of the student athletes.

A significant portion of the documentary is dedicated to exposing amateurism as nothing more than a made up concept to explain away the injustices to college athletes. Schooled posits that the NCAA mandates a code of amateurism as a simple excuse for lack of monetary compensation for its athletes. Proponents of ‘amateurism’, date the concept back to the gloried classical Olympians. The film is quick to point out that the notion that these athletes went without compensation is also a myth. Ancient Greek athletes were paid and paid handsomely, in fact historians agree that the mere thought of preforming for free was sure to be balked at during the time.

This is the thrust of the entire documentary- people should be paid for the work they do. Anything short of that is a violation of human rights. The film provides moral and practical rationale why student athletes should be paid for their work. Perhaps the most convincing argument is a reference away from the vacuum of sports: indentured servant is defined as “a person under contract to work for another person for a definite period of time, usually without pay but in exchange for learning a trade”. To many, this sounds exactly like a student athlete.

The classic counter argument is that student athletes are indeed paid. They receive payment in-kind with tuition, room, and board. Yet, in reality, this agreement shackles the student athlete into circumstances that limit their educational experience. They are pigeonholed into the least challenging majors, coerced into avoiding certain courses or professors, forbidden from certain curricular activities, etc. This devalues the very ‘agreed upon exchange’ that the NCAA claims is so worthwhile. The film begs the question of how meaningful this education really is. The example used in the documentary highlights the common occurrence of student athletes forced to take fraudulent independent study courses where no work is completed, let alone any class attended; is this justified payment? Schooled delves into this fallacy and the associated questions.

The student learning experience is in question, to this degree; the term student athlete itself is a misnomer. At the New York City premiere of the film, attendees were able to interact with producers, interviewees, and other key players involved the film in a town-hall setting. Schooled producer Andrew Muscato says he “hopes that this film can spark a conversation that is long overdue.” Given intricacies like Title IX, student athletes in non-revenue generating sports, conference rights, and so on, the documentary falls short of proposing a logistical solution on how to pay student athletes. It does, however, advocate gathering all relevant parties for a mature and realistic conversation of what is really happening. To this point and to Muscato’s hopes, this envisioned dialogue was definitely started at the town-hall premiere. If it is any indication of talks to come: the sentiment in the room was to throw out the amateurism excuse and pay the athletes their due.

According to producers, the documentary is based on both the article, “Shame of College Sports”, and the book, The Cartel, by Pulitzer Prize winning civil rights scholar, Taylor Branch. Those featured in the film include Arian Foster, Domonique Foxworth, Johnathan Franklin, Jeff Locke, Ed O’Bannon, Devon Ramsay, Bob Costas, Jay Bilas, Joe Nocera, Dave Zirin, Frank Deford, George Dohrmann, BJ Schecter, Michael Rosenber, and Sonny Vaccaro. Sam Rockwell narrates the film.

The documentary executive produced by Bobby Valentine; produced by Andrew Muscato, Taylor Branch, and Domonique Foxworth premieres on EPIX at 8 PM Wednesday, October 16th. Content will also be available free at

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