DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If anyone knows about college sports, it's Kylia Carter. She played basketball for Ole Miss, and now her son Wendell is one of the hottest prospects in the NBA draft. This week, Kylia Carter was invited to a conference about reforming the NCAA, and she did not mince her words.
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KYLIA CARTER: The only system that I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do while those in charge receive mighty compensation - the only two systems where I've known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system.
GREENE: Comparing NCAA sports to slavery or prison - this mom and former athlete was saying that unpaid college athletes are essentially being exploited. And Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone, who has been long critical of the NCAA, said people running college sports should be listening to her.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: I know it rankles feathers, but to hear it from a mother of one of the top basketball recruits in the country just a year ago I think gives it a certain resonance that hasn't been there before. She applauded the educational opportunities, but it's the system of exploitation that really drove her family to make the decision to have Wendell only play a year at Duke.
GREENE: Blackistone and other critics of the NCAA say athletes who generate eye-popping revenue for schools should be compensated. Others argue that many of these athletes enjoy the benefits of scholarships, some covering everything. There's been renewed focus on this long-running debate with the release of two new reports from commissions that are calling for change, one of them led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. These reports recommend better oversight, also more transparency when schools strike lucrative deals with shoe and clothing companies. But Kevin Blackistone argues that these commissions sidestepped the biggest problem, that lack of compensation.
BLACKISTONE: I really think, when you look at these two reports, that they are still dancing around this issue. In fact, the Condoleezza Rice report doesn't even dance around the issue. It states flatly that the amateurism model of college sports is something that the NCAA should protect. And as long as that is an issue, I think you're going to have all of these other problems.
GREENE: What about the argument that some have made that this is not a perfect system, but that these are college students; they're college athletes; I mean, allowing them to be paid would just undermine the whole fact that these are student athletes and that people support this - I mean, people want to root for these teams; they want to feel the pride in their universities; I mean, this - the system's not perfect, but it - but there's no other way?
BLACKISTONE: I would say two things. As a journalism student at Northwestern University, I worked at journalism, and I was still able to go to school.
GREENE: You got paid for the...
BLACKISTONE: I got paid for writing stories. I got paid for working at the campus news station. Why can't a college athlete receive the same sort of deal? I would also say this. I really don't think that in the Southeastern Conference...
GREENE: The NCAA conference is that...
BLACKISTONE: ...One of the biggest - the biggest one going, that if Auburn or Alabama or Georgia or Florida football players were suddenly being paid to play on Saturdays, that those fan bases would feel any differently about rooting for those teams and wearing those colors.
GREENE: Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. He also teaches sports journalism at the University of Maryland. Always appreciate you being here. Thanks, Kevin.
BLACKISTONE: Thanks for the invite. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.