Moderator John Donvan very expertly captained the DebateShip. These four debaters were all highly intelligent, well prepared, well spoken and intimately familiar with college sports. And they were very passionate about their position on "do pay" or "don't pay."
The debaters were each allowed six minutes to outline their positions. First up was Andy Schwarz, a "for pay" advocate. I've been in Andy's company several times, and he always struck me as a soft-spoken person. But give him a mic and an audience and a topic with which he is highly passionate, and wow!
Right at the get-go Andy captured everyone's attention when he authoritatively stated,"Tonight you're going to hear Christine and Len argue that enforcement of amateurism is a bulwark against over-commercialization."
Andy continued . . . . "We have let athletes have the right of being paid to be usurped by the NCAA through collusion. 'Should we pay athletes?' is really an arrogant question. Who are we to tell a group of people whether they can or can't earn a living under the rights the rest of us have? A better question is if there were no collusion, would college athletes get paid? And if the answer to that is yes, then you know they're being exploited. Their pay is being held down by a cartel."
Next up was Len Elmore for the "Don't Pay Athletes" team. For his open he passionately extolled the menu of benefits that athletes already receive (scholarships, academic assistance, cash stipends, world-class training, medical, etc.). [Indeed, later in the debate Elmore's partner Christine Brennan stated that Forbes magazine estimated the value of those items is $2 million. . . . We gotta look that one up.]
In light of the fact that more than half of men's basketball and football players are black, Elmore said, "You've heard from the opposition about 'fair value.' How about focusing on valuing education fairly. For black athletes education is resistance. What's better than a degree to help you prepare and resist the ravages of racism?"
Next up was Joe Nocera, a pull-no-punches proponent for paying athletes for many years. He challenged the value of some athlete's degrees that Elmore referred to by saying "A lot of those who graduate major in something called eligibility."
Joe is an excitable guy (understatement), and he uttered the following with palpable repugnance: "Why is it OK to have a business that maximizes revenue in every aspect, but the labor force is supposed to be free? How is that right?"
The last of the intro statements came from Christine Brennan, speaking against paying players. She was the only one of the four who I had not previously seen/met, and I was not disappointed. In her intro—and several times later during the debate—she stated (rhetorically? vaguely? specifically?) that "paying players would be chaos for everyone." It sounded to me like she thought players should not be paid largely because it would be "too complicated."
Later Brennan said rhetorically "Are there problems? Absolutely, on that we can agree. Is it perfect? Of course not." I could hear (and see) Nocera and Schwarz groaning and shifting on their side of the stage when Brennan trotted out this "romance argument" that is often utilized by "don't pay" advocates.
When one is at a debate in person, the ability to pick up on the gesticulations, facials and eyes of the participants is critical. That's why I sat in the first row center; there was no one better situated to see the dozens of visuals that were part of the debate.
As Brennan went on and on about the supposed complications that would be involved in paying athletes, I thought I saw steam emanating from Nocera's ears. And then he kicked into his "agitated objector" persona, He refrained from attacking Brennan personally (but maybe he would have if this were a barroom venue) and he vehemently rebutted her comments about "chaos" being created if players were paid.
Waving his arms and talking excitedly, Nocera said, "Putting money into the equation is not necessarily this horrible, corrupt thing. You're paying someone for doing some work. That's what happens in America all the time!"
Nocera's mini tirade resulted in the loudest collective belly laugh from the crowd all night.