New Way To Profit Off College Athletes Discovered

Remember baseball cards? The staples of the 80s and early 90s - and kids’ introduction to the lucrative world of the bubble market* - helped kids get acquainted with their favorite players and marvel at the laughably long careers of Tommy John and Charlie Hough.

Andre Ware trading card
(Now they don’t even have to be drafted first!)

But those days are long since over; the glut of cards that Topps and other companies put out at the beginning of the ’90s essentially oversaturated the market, and the numerous trading card shops that dotted strip malls across the country have long since been boarded up and replaced with real estate offices and consignment stores. The dream may not be dead, but it’s been spending an awful lot of time in the iron lung recently.

But that’s not going to stop Upper Deck from trying to make a buck in the sports world the old-fashioned way: on the backs of unpaid college athletes.

The COLLEGIATE LICENSING COMPANY put out a press release today, congratulating itself for figuring out yet another way to capitalize on college sports without driving a cent to its athletes:

The Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), a division of IMG Worldwide, and The Upper Deck Company, a leading producer of sports trading cards, announced today a multi-year agreement on behalf of more than 200 collegiate institutions for Upper Deck to be the exclusive licensee in the collegiate trading card category.

Upper Deck’s program will look to expand upon the current usage of collegiate marks and put a new focus on the athletes’ collegiate accomplishments, as well as feature mascots, stadiums, and traditions unique to the college market.

“We believe that there are many opportunities in the collegiate trading card category that have not been fully realized, and Upper Deck shares our vision for expansion,” said David Kirkpatrick, CLC’s Vice President of Non-Apparel Marketing. “We are confident that fans will embrace this strategy, which will place a renewed focus on collegiate accomplishments in addition to a student-athlete’s post-collegiate potential.”

Hmm? Sorry, we must have missed the part where they talk about the unethical nature and hypocrisy of selling an amateur athlete’s image for profit while telling that athlete he’s not allowed to do the exact same thing to benefit himself.

Look, it’s good to attach athletics for 18-23 year-olds to higher education, since an education helps someone long after their athleticism goes away and there’s really no other way to organize thousands of people that age together - save the armed forces, who also educate their troops - to form a pool of talent from which to form several competitive sports teams.

But to steadfastly refuse the opportunity to share in the multi-billion dollar success of big-time athletics is, essentially, the exploitation. To that end, Matt Yglesias from THINK PROGRESS:

NCAA president Myles Brand explains that colleges can’t pay the athletes who make money for them because “Paying even a few student-athletes would turn universities into entertainment corporations and misses the point that, for most, some college is better than none.”

This is ludicrous. What’s turned universities into entertainment corporations is the decision to run their athletics programs as big-time profitable entertainment!

The universities that participate in these sports at the highest levels have already turned themselves into entertainment corporations. The difference between them and other entertainment corporations is that they’ve formed a cartel that bans them from paying their workforces. And they’re backed up by additional cartels—the NBA and the NFL—that make it virtually impossible to ever be compensated for your work unless you agree to an apprenticeship period during which you work for free on behalf of an entertainment subsidiary of an American college.

And now we can add trading cards to the list of ways the colleges profit off those players. But don’t they dare work out any deals for themselves in the meantime; they’re just amateurs, you see. And that “purity” of college sports must be maintained at all costs, no matter what logical and ethical pretzels the NCAA winds itself into.

*By the way, should we be less surprised by the dot-com and real estate booms and busts in light of the fact that many of the people involved in their creation and destruction likely owned baseball cards as children? And were doing silly stuff like paying $1.50 for, like, Ron Gant cards? As for the female real estate agents, of course, Beanie Babies.