The conventional wisdom in college sports is that student athletes should be amateurs and that if they somehow became professionals it would cheapen the experience for competitors and fans alike.
The NCAA has gone to great length over the years to provide some sort of veneer that college sports is not a big business and that student athletes are really students first and athletes second.
As school after school has wrestled with remaining competitive while trying to remain compliant with complicated NCAA “amateurism” rules, we begin to see the folly in forcing what clearly is a professional situation into an amateur regime.
You can see a similar folly in how we treat our elected officials down at the General Assembly. Somewhere along the line it was decided that “professional” politicians are undesirable. Having “career politicians” would be just as tawdry as paying collegiate athletes, the thought goes. So instead of recognizing the demands of governing an intrinsically complex modern state, we pretend that the legislature is still a “part-time” endeavor where citizen legislators reign supreme.
But just like amateurism in college sports, the notion that the General Assembly is run by citizen politicians is a farce. There is nothing part-time about public service in Raleigh.
In addition to the regular sessions that run for months on end, rank-and-file legislators are at the whim of the leadership and can be summoned to Raleigh at any point during the year. Such an open-ended commitment makes it hard to hold down another job. Couple that with the enormous amount of constituent work, policy research, study committees and town hall meetings and what you get is a full-time job.
But since we are wedded to the anachronistic notion of a citizen legislature where part-time amateurs sail the ship of state, we won’t acknowledge that serving in public office is full-time work. We don’t pay an adequate salary, which is set at about $14,000 annually for most lawmakers, we summon our legislators to session arbitrarily and we essentially keep them from being able to maintain any other employment. The result is that very few of us can actually seek and serve in office and those who do aren’t really part-time public servants at all.
It’s not that different than the life of these so-called student athletes. Sure, we pretend that they are just like the rest of the student body that attends class, enjoys campus life and receives a well-rounded education. But neither the NCAA hoops star nor a state legislator lives like their peers.
The General Assembly is due back in February for yet another round of work managing a state with more than 9 million residents and a $20 billion budget. Heaven forbid we treat them like the professionals that they are.