Syracuse Orange: NCAA should deem student-athletes as employees, Jay Bilas says

Top analyst Jay Bilas says the NCAA should deem student-athletes as employees, whether with the Syracuse Orange or elsewhere.
Top analyst Jay Bilas says the NCAA should deem student-athletes as employees, whether with the Syracuse Orange or elsewhere. / Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For the Syracuse Orange and its peers within the Atlantic Coast Conference and around the country, it’s a brave new world in collegiate athletics.

A lot of evolving factors are in play. Conference realignment. Massive television contracts, particularly as it pertains to college football.

The transfer portal’s explosion. Name, image and likeness opportunities. Various stakeholders and decision-makers are weighing in, whether it’s the NCAA, federal lawmakers and others.

Legal battles are ongoing. The whole thing, to me, is a mess. But it’s where we are in college sports today. Even Syracuse University’s chancellor, Kent Syverud, has weighed in and is part of the discussion.

What the collegiate athletics model looks like in the future remains to be seen. But one of the top national analysts out there in college basketball says it can be an easy fix for the NCAA.

The Syracuse Orange and its peers face an ever-shifting collegiate sports landscape.

Top ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who to me is the best analyst out there in the sport, had some interesting comments this week when he joined the Rich Eisen Show, per an article from On3’s Nick Schultz.

Bilas contends that the NCAA should deem student-athletes as employees and enable them to sign contracts. Should that occur, buyouts could be implemented in these contracts, and that might shift how the current transfer portal operates, to some degree anyway.

“If the NCAA wants to fix this, they can fix it tomorrow,” Bilas said. “All they have to do is take off all restrictions for schools paying their athletes and they would sign them to contracts, just like they do coaches and administrators and all that. It’s really not that difficult.”

He continued, “You sign a player to a contract, put a buyout in it, put conditions on it that are bargained between the player and the institution, it won’t be a problem anymore. Just like they don’t worry about coaches transferring from one school to another. They pay their buyout, it’s orderly. And everybody knows what the market is. It’s just not that big of a deal.”

In recent years, the NCAA began allowing student-athletes to earn money off their names, images and likenesses, but at the same time, the NCAA still wants to prioritize an amateurism model, which to me is laughable.

Plus, NIL is a hot-button topic for many reasons, one of which is the whole idea that NIL should not be pay-for-play. But let’s be real: NIL money is going out to induce players to commit to specific schools.

It’s been happening, and it will continue to happen, particularly given some recent legal battles playing out in the courts.

“We’re trying to walk the line of maintaining amateurism, which is dead,” Bilas said. “And then, we’re complaining about NIL, it’s not what we thought it was going to be. What did they think was going to happen? I knew this was going to happen. … The schools want to pay the players. They want to have the best players, and they’re going to do what it takes to get them and they’re going to compete in the marketplace to do it.”

The whole student-athlete and amateurism discussion is one that I’ve had on many occasions with fellow Syracuse Orange fans on social media.

People have a lot of strong opinions on this issue. It’s a sensitive, dicey topic, because on the one hand, student-athletes do receive scholarships and can profit off their NIL.

On the other hand, college players, particularly in football and basketball, generate significant amounts of money for their respective schools and conferences, and it would be easy for me to view these players as employees.

Personally, I’m fine with it, but I get why some folks wouldn’t be on board with student-athletes being employees. It’s a little odd and would take some getting used to, but I also think it’s the direction we’re headed and ultimately inevitable.

I also think that the NCAA is an incompetent organization and needs to go away. I’ll save my rant on that for another day, though.

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