Staff Editorial

Reconsider college amateurism restrictions

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Jordan Bohannon (3) is interviewed in the locker room after the Hawkeye's victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in a first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, March 22, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes guard Jordan Bohannon (3) is interviewed in the locker room after the Hawkeye's victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in a first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, March 22, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Jordan Bohannon gave the NCAA an ultimatum this past weekend.

The Linn-Mar alum and University of Iowa basketball player led his team to the NCAA tournament this year, but didn’t go home empty-handed after the team lost in the second round. He apparently brought an official “March Madness” locker room rug back to Iowa.

Bohannon tagged the NCAA on a Twitter post and wrote, “Give us the ability to make money off our own name, and we’ll give you your rug back.”

The Gazette editorial board firmly condemns theft in any form, but we have to admit Bohannon is bringing attention to an important issue.

The NCAA generated more than $1 billion in revenue last year, not including dollars that flow to colleges and conferences, nor to all their many business partners and advertisers. Dozens of sports coaches at public universities make more than $1 million annually, including Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery.

With the advent of legal sports betting in more states, likely to include Iowa sooner or later, the casino industry also will reap the benefits of the enormous value college athletes produce.

It’s a lucrative industry, but the young men and women performing the hard labor don’t get any cash compensation.

We were reminded of the risks collegiate athletes face when Duke University basketball star Zion Williamson badly injured his knee as his Nike-sponsored shoe split during a game. In a recent report, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., invoked the Williamson injury to lament, “as the athletes provide the product that has fueled this industry, they see a fraction of the revenue they generate.”

In the case of the stolen rug, Bohannon isn’t complaining about the lack of a paycheck. Instead, he’s frustrated because he and his peers aren’t allowed to make business deals, even off the court.

Beyond the amateur status mandate, college athletes’ personal conduct is policed by overseers. Bohannon complained that event organizers at a news conference this year took away his Goldfish snack crackers and poured his drink into an approved cup because the products he brought weren’t made by NCAA sponsors.

To underscore just how tightly controlled student-athletes’ behavior is, officials from the NCAA and UI apparently encouraged Bohannon to clarify that his original tweet about the rug was in jest.

Bohannon wrote in a follow-up post, “After much deliberation, the @NCAA has agreed with the @uiowa the rug can stay in Iowa City as long as I issue a mea culpa. With that, I am sorry for my actions. No one is denying the incredible opportunities the NCAA provides for athletes like myself. I am forever grateful.”

Maybe you sense a dose of sarcasm or resentment in Bohannon’s apology. And why not? In essence, Bohannon is a highly skilled yet grossly undercompensated worker in a multibillion-dollar industry.

Petty theft aside, Bohannon deserves credit for giving sports regulators and consumers something to ponder.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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