The Ray Dennison Legacy: Money, Power, & Amateurism, Ep.1

To kick-off this series, we will be diving into the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, how student athletes and the industry came to be, and the rules and regulations it imposes.



Hello and welcome to The Ray Dennison Legacy: Money, Power, and Amateurism presented by Urban Plains. In this series, Jackson Ostroski, Justine Drake, and Zacary Gideon will be taking a dive into the NCAA, its subsequent sports, and the athletes that the NCAA quote-unquote refers to as student-athletes. Stuck in a world between traditional students and employees, the exploitation of collegiate athletes has been occurring for decades. In this series, we’ll look into the history of the NCAA, specific cases in which the NCAA has abused power for profit, and different athletes who have suffered for it.


The National Collegiate Athletic Association was created in 1906, its initial reason was to keep college athletes safe. When the Association began, there were a lot of deaths and injuries in football. Through the NCAA, the rules of football were reformed to make the game safer to play. 

Going into the mission of the NCAA… The NCAA is a member-led organization that claims to be focused on fostering an environment and culture that places emphasis on academics, fairness, and well-being across all collegiate sports. The NCAA’s mission is broken into three parts: academics, fairness, and well-being. So looking into academics, The NCAA places academics as a priority for student athletes. Success is measured by athletic performance as well as academic performance, to learn and succeed in their sport and academics. Athletes are graduating at higher rates as stated on the NCAA website in the best possible athletic environment. 

Fairness is another part of their missione. The rules are claimed to be centered around improving student athletes’ experience through the change of fair and inclusive practices. Student athletes are able to have a voice in the decision making process. 

And the last is well-being. The NCAA claims to still make protection of physical and mental health a priority. So the question is, how have they shown up for athletes in need and ensured student athletes are receiving the best experience they can?

The term ‘student-athlete’ was created in the 1950’s, when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmen’s-compensation death benefits. 

Did his football scholarship make the fatal collision a “work-related” accident? Was he a school employee, like his peers who worked part-time as teaching assistants and bookstore cashiers? Or was he a fluke victim of extracurricular pursuits? Given the hundreds of incapacitating injuries to college athletes each year, the answers to these questions had enormous consequences. The Colorado Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the school’s contention that he was not eligible for benefits, since the college was “not in the football business.”

So, what does this mean today? Some feel the NCAA coined this term to get out of having to pay athletes for their work. It suggests that they are not professional athletes and that they do not have to be compensated because they are students.


So what exactly is the current state of the NCAA? The NCAA is made up of a board of governors, consisting of presidents and chancellors from the three divisions also including five independent members. The legislative body governs each division and sets policies across the NCAA. They are responsible for creating a fair, safe, and equal space for all student athletes. 

The NCAA is currently under fire for its lack of care and regard for the athletes it is supposed to be protecting and providing for. The NCAA seems to only care about the revenue it can gain and generate at the expense of student athletes. 

And what exactly has changed since its creation? From what started as a “rule making body” focusing primarily on football, the NCAA has grown into a billion dollar industry governing over 50,000 student athletes in the three divisions in 24 sports over 116 years. The NCAA shifts its focus year-to-year based on the situations that arise.

In recent years, efforts of the NCAA under new NCAA rule has stated to be committed to knowledge and preventon of brain injuries, anti-discrimination with a focus on religious discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and also limiting COVID-19 exposure throughout the pandemic.

Currently, the NCAA is prioritizing its efforts in all three divisions towards a uniform interim policy suspending the NCAA name, image, and likeness rules for all current and incoming student-athletes in all sports. This new policy is an attempt to support and open more opportunities for student athletes.

How has the focus shifted away from the original mission? The original mission has kept college athletes safe, now, the current mission of the NCAA (which is stated on their website) is well-being and lifelong success of college athletes. The current feelings towards the NCAA is a money-making business that doesn’t care if the people they claim to be protecting are being hurt in the long run. 


And lastly the overall focus of the episodes going forward is going to be looking at the institutional design. So, the NCAA is an institution in which major collegiate athletic programs come together and act under certain conditions and rules to maintain order within the sports. The institution is a neutral area in which rational actors interact with one another voluntarily. If you have all of these institutions coming together and they are all falling underneath the NCAA’s law, is the NCAA a voluntary and neutral institution? 

The NCAA is under the rule of the Board of Governors, like Zac said previously.  

The NCAA has the board in place to help facilitate the discussion for rule changes and to help the NCAA achieve its goals, its goals being its mission statement. If you only have people, hire-ups, in the universities coming together, then the only thing missing is the athletes. 

So the NCAA does have SAAC. Which the NCAA says is allowing athletes to have a voice in the matters of collegiate athletics. The quote on quote voice is not a board that has direct influence but rather just provides insight. It doesn’t have any true legislative, governing power, it just is there. It’s just kind of like a complaint box in the corner. Athletes can come together, they can voice their opinions on certain things, and there have been certain measures passed to benefit athletes. Nothing as significant as rule changes, nothing in-terms of name, image, likeness. That was passed in the court systems. So, is SAAC a solution to the problem? Or is it merely a scapegoat that the NCAA can use in order to maintain order? Sort of like a “We’re hearing your problems but, we’re not taking it seriously.” It’s just kind of there to keep everyone happy. 

When I’m looking at the NCAA the idea of power is something that I believe is a core issue. The NCAA has the power to vote on actual change, policy issues, etc. like I said and SAAC can only voice opinions on certain things. That may or may not have an impact. 

Coercion is another big issue. People from other universities can come together, they can start making rule changes that will benefit their universities, their institutions, for financial gain but then that creates a huge power differential between athletes and the institution. Athletes are the ones that are providing [LAUGH] providing the sports to play that generated 820 million dollars in TV deals in 2020 for the NCAA. While they receive no taxes on any of that income because of their non-profit status. 

The average NCAA player only receives about $18,000 in scholarships. Which seems like a lot, in major part of university students that are non-athlete, receive that, around that, or even more in just pure academic scholarships. 1% of student-athletes receive a full ride. So whenever I’m presented with the argument, “Well we don’t have to pay student athletes because they’re receiving free college.” Well how many are receiving free college? 1%.

Athletes provide athletic departments with exposure. It’s a form of entertainment, sports are fun to watch! I remember growing up with my dad, going to University of Tulsa games. We went every week, we had the tailgate spot, anytime Tulsa was playing at home, we were there. I remember me and my little brother would play in the little grass lot right out front the stadium before my brother even received the chance to play on the field. 

But, these athletics departments are using these athletes as a focal point for the university. It’s a marketing tool. Universities can bring in more and more people if let’s say teams like Alabama make it to the college football play-offs, they’re getting exposure for the university. People see the university all over the place, little kids walking around with Alabama stuff because they see them winning on TV. If your team’s a winner, more and more people are going to want to be a part of that program. These games are also bringing in a ton of money for the university. Think about how many people are in Death Valley in Baton Rouge. Think about how many people are going to Alabama football games, just the SCC and how big it is. How many people are showing up to those games and paying to watch those games. Season tickets, backers, boosters, booth seat owners, a whole bunch of people are coming to see these games. Universities create jobs that facilitate games, coaches, and different people that run athletic departments. We’re talking people behind the scenes like strength coaches, like um, football operations which are setting up travel for teams and setting up all this stuff. It takes a lot of people for teams to keep up a behemoth like a SCC program, a Big 12, a Big 10, any of the power 5, it takes a lot of manpower to get behind these programs and keep them moving forward.

So, with all this manpower and all of these jobs created, everybody getting paid, athletes are not. Athletes make up a majority of an athletic department and they are not getting paid under the coined term amateurism. 

What is amateurism? Amateurism is the blanket term that the NCAA has used in court, federal court, to say that student athletes are voluntary actors. They’re coming into this in the understanding that they’re not getting paid. But unlike other countries, where you don’t have to go to college to play professional sports, there’s the CHL in Canada. The major governing body for junior league hockey in Canada. They pay players a stipend, the players can go right from the CHL to the NHL, they don’t have to go to college. If you’re looking at college football, I would like it [LAUGH] if there is an amateur college football or if there was just an amateur version of football where people would be getting paid, like a minor league, I would like to know. Amateurism has changed over the years. In an academic study called, Whither the NCAA: Reforming the System by Andrew Zimbalist he says in essence “In essence, the NCAA definition of amateurism is arbitrary. It has morphed multiple times over the years. The one common element in all sports associations’ definitions of amateurism is that the athlete cannot be paid for playing the sport. Any other restriction is not basic to our understanding of amateurism,” So, while players are on the field, they can’t be paid. But off the field, what’s the problem? 

The NCAA has gone to court with many players, many people, many college institutions to put a stop to players getting paid on the side. A really famous article, there’s a story, it’s a whole YouTube documentary series, it’s a whole major article is on SB Nation and their secret base. Where it’s on Ole Miss and the Laremy Tunsil scandal. Laremy Tunsil, I know a lot of football buffs are real big college football guys who watch the draft a bunch, they’ll most likely know how Laremy Tunsil is who was in the NFL draft who gets a video leaked of him with a gas mask bong and it drops his daft status like crazy. It goes into Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis saying that he took money from all of these people that weren’t employees of the university but were affiliated. But were quote on quote “bag man” is what the article says. Where people are coming and giving these players money on the side to sign to different universities before they’re even  in the NCAA. They’re not even, they’re not technically playing the sport yet, they’re not playing college football, they haven’t played, they haven’t stepped on a practice field for college football, and they’re getting side money. And the NCAA launched a crazy investigation into this. 

But, they’re changing the definition of amateurism. They’re shifting that around. So, why would a high schooler who’s getting paid to sign to a university be under the jurisdiction of the NCAA which has no legal bounds, it has no legal bounds. It’s a company, it’s an entertainment company is what it is, is what it’s morphed into. I mean, you look at the TV deals they’re singing, how [LAUGH] much money they’re making pulling in. A high school player getting paid to go to a university by someone on the side, is it right? Is it wrong? That’s not for me to decide but it’s not for the NCAA to decide either. That person is not within the NCAA’s world, it’s not on the field. They’re shifting the definition of amateurism which brings us into institutional morality. 

If an athlete receives money to live from a coach or an outside source, should this be treated the same way as a high school athlete to get paid to sign for a university? If I can’t make my rent and my coach comes to the side and says “I’ll help you out” if my family can’t provide and I don’t have enough because of all the time that is put into putting on sports events. Kids are putting in countless hours. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning, then going to class, going to practice, and then studying they’re putting in so much time, they don’t have time for a job, this is their job. This is their job to put on these sporting events is their job. So, if they don’t have the means to pay and a coach and some outside source says they can help you out so you can stay in the university, in the program, the NCAA will crack down on that. There have been coaches that have been fired for that, there have been players suspended for that. This happened to the Iowa Volleyball team a few years ago. 

Outside the field of play, should the NCAA have any say in the lives of athletes? Because the NCAAis there to govern the sport but outside of that, who gets to make the calls? Why can the NCAA regulate coaches and athletic departments salaries but CAN enforce payment rules on athletes? If coaches can be paid these crazy millions of dollars, so million dollar contracts, Nick Saban, the booster club paid for his house, they paid his mortgage off so he would stay in Tuscaloosa. The NCAA won’t regulate this but if [LAUGH] an athlete is given money to help with their rent, they’ll crack down on it and they’ll crack down hard, and they have. So, looking at that, is what we’ll be going over moving forward.  



Thank you for listening to The Ray Dennison Legacy: Money, Power, and Amateurism presented by Urban Plains. Next episode we will be looking at college football and how scandals changed the lives of athletes, families, and universities forever. Thank you again and we will see you next episode. 

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