Whenever one has argued for college athletes to be paid, those who defend the current system have responded with some variation of, “Okay, how would you fix it?” This was a reasonable question. Do you pay some athletes but not all of them? Do colleges have to dig into their non-athletic funds? Do players get traded from one school to another in the middle of the school year? Do they even bother going to school at all? I always struggled to come up with answers to these questions, about how to reconcile the college sports I love with the financial and logistical realities of the situation. It used to frustrate me. But then I realized that throwing the question back at anyone who asked it was simply a way to deflect from complicity with an unjust system. What do you have that’s better? is not a defense of a corrupt model; it is a way to maintain your place in it. Whether you were a coach making millions off unpaid labor, a university or conference (or an organization like the NCAA) cashing billions in television checks, or just a fan who loved watching college sports so much that you never wanted it to change, defending the current way of doing things required rhetorical jujitsu. And that was a sure sign that it wasn’t really worth defending.
What the Supreme Court and Kavanaugh did on Monday was flip the focus: Now it’s up to the NCAA and administrators and university presidents to come up with a plan to save their sports — or else. The NCAA not only has to justify its own existence; it has to justify the entire notion of college athletics.