Obama says NCAA is putting college players “at risk in ways that are unnecessary” during pandemic

Former President Barack Obama criticized how the NCAA is handling the coronavirus pandemic during a podcast interview released Thursday, saying their athletes are being “put at risk in ways that are unnecessary.” 

Mr. Obama, an avid sports fan, took issue with how players are being treated at the college level as the pandemic left teams dealing with outbreaks and forced more than 130 football games to cancel or postpone. 

“When I watch college football in particular right now – we’ll see how basketball develops – there is this sense of the economics driving a series of decisions in which a bunch of very young people are being put at risk in ways that are unnecessary,” Obama said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “But that gets me into a whole set of questions about the NCAA that could take up too much time.”

He was then asked whether college athletes should get paid – a topic of conversation that has dominated the sports talk world ever since the state of California announced last year it would begin to allow athletes to make money starting in 2023. Mr. Obama agreed. 

“I think that the amount of money that is being made at the college level, the risks that let’s say college football players are being subjected to and the fact that for many of these colleges, what these young people are doing are subsidizing athletic director salaries and coach salaries,” he said. “All of that argues for a better economic arrangement for them, and I think there is a way of doing that that doesn’t completely eliminate the traditions and the love we all have for college sports.”

Mr. Obama also criticized the NCAA for how it goes about punishing student athletes when they or their families are caught working with athletics college boosters, saying “penalizing those kids when everybody else is benefiting does not make sense to me.” 

“The whole myth of student-athletes really evolved in part because early on, football players who are being brought in as ringers on these teams, were getting hurt and then suing for workers’ comp and suddenly, the colleges figured out if we form this association and create this ideal of student-athletes that we’ll protect our pocketbooks,” he said. “So yes, we should make some changes there.”

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to take up a dispute between the NCAA and a group of collegiate athletes who argue the rules restricting education-related compensation violate federal antitrust law. They allege education-related benefits were unlawful and say that without the limits, they would be compensated at a level more commensurate with their value to their universities, conferences and the NCAA. 

The lawsuit comes months after the NCAA’s Board of Governors supported a proposed rule change allowing college athletes to cash in on their name, image and likeness, but they have yet to collectively update the rule. 

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