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It’s hard to stop market forces

Posted By Russ Roberts On August 28, 2013 @ 6:27 pm In Competition,Sports | Comments Disabled

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll know that Johnny Manziel (last year’s Heisman Trophy winner) has been under investigation for selling autographs. He has evidently been cleared of that offense but has received a .5 game suspension for a milder violation that can’t really be explained. ESPN tries to [1]:

The NCAA and A&M agreed on the one-half suspension because Manziel violated NCAA bylaw 12.5.2.1, an NCAA spokesperson confirmed. The rule says student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.

“If additional information comes to light, the NCAA will review and consider if further action is appropriate. NCAA rules are clear that student-athletes may not accept money for items they sign and based on information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case,” the NCAA said in the joint statement.

In addition to the suspension, Manziel will speak to his teammates about lessons learned from the situation, and A&M will educate its athletes about signing multiple items for individuals.

The NCAA has to be a Kafkaesque organization. Why can’t a college football player sign autographs for money? Because that would allow a fan of say, Alabama, to pay him $100,000 for an autograph. Why would that happen? Because there is a price ceiling of ZERO on the compensation allowed for college football players. (OK, they do get room and board and a chance at an education if they can find the time.) But they are not allowed to collect the wage that would result from their value and from competition for their services. So to keep that from happening surreptitiously, the NCAA forbids autograph sales or any kind of work. So the coaches and the universities get a disproportionate share of the value of top athletes relative to what would result from open competition.

But it’s hard to stop the market forces that are still pushing schools to reward the best athletes. So they compete in other ways (fancy dorms, weight rooms and so on) and fans compete under the table which is why there are constant recruiting scandals. Those scandals make people think that college sports is a cesspool. But the stink comes from the attempt to pretend that these are student-athletes like any other, attending school and playing a little football on the side.

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