Education is a unique commodity. Beyond the ability to earn more in the marketplace, education has an intrinsic value. It gives individuals the tools to more fully engage the entire observed world psychologically, personally, professionally, politically, and philosophically. Few other endeavors so dramatically expand rather than diminish returns of investment over time. Thus, questions of compensation in the school setting pose particular challenges to those who must adjudicate them.
I recall my own personal foray into the question when it involved graduate student unionization at Columbia University. As part of the student caucus of the Faculty Senate, I participated in difficult discussions with students, faculty and the administration about the challenges of collective bargaining in the academic environment. Students and administration officials in private universities continue to argue their positions on the matter.
The attention and money involved in student athletics only amplify these difficulties. Ed O'Bannon and Missy Franklin demonstrate the spectrum of student athlete compensation issues. Former UCLA Bruin Ed O’Bannon is lead plaintiff in a 2009 class action suit seeking a percentage of the NCAA"s licensing revenue. He recently attempted to expand the class to include current men's basketball and football players, the two sports that garner the majority of licensing revenue for the NCAA. Under NCAA Operating Bylaws 22.214.171.124.4.1.2 and 126.96.36.199.4.3.3 "Operation Gold Grant" (Aug. 2011), Missy Franklin would be allowed to keep over $200,000 in compensation for her London Olympics' performance. Though, to her credit, she would forego exponentially more money if she retained her NCAA eligibility.
These difficult issues will require further exploration by NCAA officials, courts and other administrative bodies. However, "just saying no" to compensation may no longer be an option for the NCAA.