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The Myth of the Amateur

The Myth of the Amateur
A History of College Athletic Scholarships

A deft examination of the controversy over paying men and women college athletes, which persuasively argues that, for all the NCAA’s insistence on amateurism today, college sports have never been amateur.

Series: Terry and Jan Todd Series on Physical Culture and Sports

May 2021
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344 pages | 6 x 9 |

In this in-depth look at the heated debates over paying college athletes, Ronald A. Smith starts at the beginning: the first intercollegiate athletics competition—a crew regatta between Harvard and Yale—in 1852, when both teams received an all-expenses-paid vacation from a railroad magnate. This striking opening sets Smith on the path of a story filled with paradoxes and hypocrisies that plays out on the field, in meeting rooms, and in courtrooms—and that ultimately reveals that any insistence on amateurism is invalid, because these athletes have always been paid, one way or another.

From that first contest to athletes’ attempts to unionize and California’s 2019 Fair Pay to Play Act, Smith shows that, throughout the decades, undercover payments, hiring professional coaches, and breaking the NCAA’s rules on athletic scholarships have always been part of the game. He explores how the regulation of male and female student-athletes has shifted; how class, race, and gender played a role in these transitions; and how the case for amateurism evolved from a moral argument to one concerned with financially and legally protecting college sports and the NCAA. Timely and thought-provoking, The Myth of the Amateur is essential reading for college sports fans and scholars.

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Amateurism Then and Now
  • Chapter 2. The Harvard Dilemma—Amateur or Professional
  • Chapter 3. “Scholarships”: Eastern Authority and Early Payments
  • Chapter 4. Training, Training Tables, and Athletic Dorms
  • Chapter 5. The Amateur Challenge of Summer Baseball for Pay
  • Chapter 6. The 1929 Carnegie Report: Condemnation of Professionalism
  • Chapter 7. The Southeastern Conference and Athletic Scholarships
  • Chapter 8. National Athletic Scholarship Failure: The Sanity Code
  • Chapter 9. The Cleansing of the Ivy League: No Athletic Scholarships?
  • Chapter 10. Recruiting, Full Scholarships, and the Big Ten Succumbs
  • Chapter 11. Academic Standards, the 1.600 Rule, and Their Demise
  • Chapter 12. Taxation, Workers’ Compensation, and the “Student-Athlete”
  • Chapter 13. Women’s Athletics, Title IX, and the Kellmeyer Lawsuit
  • Chapter 14. Television, Unions, and the Collapse of Amateurism
  • Chapter 15. Is NCAA “Amateurism” Alive?: The O’Bannon Lawsuit Impact
  • Chapter 16. The Alston and Jenkins Lawsuits, and NCAA Fig-Leafed Professionalism
  • Chapter 17. State and Federal Legislative Pay-for-Play Action
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Timeline
  • Notes
  • Index

Ronald A. Smith is a professor emeritus at Penn State University. His books include Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics, Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform, and Wounded Lions: Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, and the Crises in Penn State Athletics.


“The research [in The Myth of the Amateur] reveals a mind that has been exploring this subject for a long time. By the time he gets to more contemporary matters, such as college athletes’ battle to be compensated for use of their likenesses, the author has covered an impressive stretch of time and topics. A long, winding road of sport and money supported by thorough research.”

“A definitive look at American colleges’ fraught history of paying athletes to play sports...In bringing the narrative up to the present, Smith amply documents the hypocrisy in the insistence that college players should be considered amateurs, and that academic standards were not compromised to accommodate sports...Smith’s exhaustive research paints a disturbing picture of entrenched corrupt practices. Those interested in both education and sports will be enlightened, if dismayed.”
Publishers Weekly

“In this book, Ronald A. Smith convincingly argues that those affiliated with the leadership of college sports have insisted for more than a hundred years, with an increasing amount of mental gymnastics, willful blindness, and, in some instances, outright lies, that such sports are amateur and must remain so to retain their essential meaning, appeal, and educational value. Grounded in an unassailable trove of archival evidence and secondary material, The Myth of the Amateur should do away, once and for all, with the charade that college athletes and the sports they play somehow need to be protected from the market.”
Kurt Edward Kemper, Dakota State University, author of Before March Madness: The Wars for the Soul of College Basketball

“Too many Americans think collegiate sports are for amateurs only, or that professionalism is a recent phenomenon. Yet Ronald A. Smith, who has researched this topic for decades and knows the history of US intercollegiate athletics better than anyone else, exposes the stark reality that athletic purity was never truly the case. He takes readers on a fascinating tour ranging from Harvard’s nineteenth-century training tables for rowers to the NCAA’s invention of the term 'student-athlete' in the 1950s; from the Kellmeyer case that cleared the way for women’s athletic scholarships in the Title IX era to the O’Bannon case that challenged the NCAA’s usage of non-compensated images of athletes. Anyone who cares about the past and future of college sports should read this book.”
Brian M. Ingrassia, West Texas A&M University, author of The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education's Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football

The Myth of the Amateur is an essential contribution to our understanding of the long and tortured history of the NCAA’s efforts to permit its member schools to avoid compensating their athletes through a wage-fixing cartel, while permitting Division I basketball and football schools to reap the ever-increasing amounts of revenue generated by those athletes. Ronald A. Smith carefully documents these efforts, as well as the increasing public and judicial awareness of the fact that the NCAA, like the famous emperor before, “has no clothes” when it seeks to hide behind the facade of “amateurism” to disguise its exploitation of these athletes, who are required to put their teams before their studies. As the public and judicial debate over the future of the NCAA rules continues, this is must reading for all those concerned about the fair and just treatment of the players who make these college sports so popular and profitable through the sweat of their labors and their extraordinary athletic skills.”
Jeffrey L. Kessler, Partner, Co-Executive Chairman & Co-Chair of Sports Law Practice Groups, Winston & Strawn LLP and lead counsel in the 2021 US Supreme Court NCAA v. Alston case