If you follow collegiate sports, you’re probably aware that the NCAA may soon allow college athletes to earn money by endorsing products and services. Previously, these talented young people could earn a scholarship that paid for their tuition, room and board, and books, but these athletes were prohibited from earning outside income connected to their position as a representative of the school. As I ponder this change, I begin to wonder what endorsement deals I could have secured when I played baseball for Siena College in upstate New York approximately 50 years ago.
First of all, however, I have to explain that I was never a top-level athlete. Yes, as an 18-year-old dreamer, I imagined myself to be in that category, but the reality tells a different story. Sure, I played football, basketball, and baseball at my small Catholic high school, but I wasn’t extraordinary in any of those sports. I sat on the bench in football, which is exactly where my mother wanted me to be; she worried about concussions long before the National Football League. And despite my 6’ 5” height, I was much too thin and just an average player in basketball. Only in baseball was I good enough to play consistently and earn a spot on a college roster. Thus, coming out of high school, my hometown endorsement possibilities might have been pretty limited. For entertainment’s sake, though, let’s just imagine the financial potential.
I probably could not have received any automobile or bank endorsement deals because those offers would have gone to the best athletes in my hometown. Guys like Buddy Flesh, Tom Safran, and Mike Tuman from Amsterdam High and guys like Billy Whelly, J.D. Smeallie, and Joe Bialabok from Bishop Scully would have received all the lucrative television deals. The fact that my dad wouldn’t even let me learn to drive until I was 18, and the additional fact that I failed my first driver’s test might also have limited those potential car commercials. In addition, I didn’t even have a checking account, or a Christmas Club for that matter, so the bank testimonials would have been eliminated too. Obviously, I would have had to look for other opportunities elsewhere.
I’m pretty sure I could have promoted Rudy’s Corner Store since I had previously spent all of my paper-route earnings there when I was in middle school. And I think, too, I could have endorsed other mom-and-pop businesses like Mac’s or Sammy’s which were both just a few blocks north of where I lived. Surely, my smiling face in their newspaper advertisements would have added to their bottom line. I wouldn’t have even required a cash payment; a cherry coke at Mac’s every time I visited or a weekly sundae at Sammy’s would have sufficed.
Once I got to college, I probably would have faced a similar endorsement dilemma. Though Siena College is now a Division I school and has a highly successful baseball program under longtime coach Tony Rossi, we weren’t very good when I played. In the early 1970s, we played at a lower level, my batting average as a senior was barely over .200, and our won-loss record that year was a miserable 2–18. So my endorsement deals there would also have been limited. No major fast-food chains or shopping malls for me, but I would have been satisfied with a couple of small deals along Route 155: sodas and snacks, perhaps, from Handy Andy’s and free weekly movie tickets from the Circle Twin Cinema across the street.
So where do I stand on this controversial issue? I’m all for the athletes, of course. And now that I think about it even more, I have one more plan up my sleeve.
I am so old that during my first year of college, freshmen athletes were not allowed to play varsity ball. Thus, I think I might even have one year of eligibility remaining. If that is the case, I think I’ll call my alma mater later today to enroll in graduate classes. Then, if they have a pickle ball team, I’m sure I’ll have an authentic endorsement deal in no time.