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Are NCAA Athletes Being Robbed $6.2 Billion?

Basketball
Are NCAA Athletes Being Robbed $6.2 Billion?

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images

At risk of inspiring nap time, let me take a brief historical sojourn; 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt schedules a series of meetings to create a safer environment for college football after prevalent injuries (and even deaths) to student athletes. The seeds of the National College Athletic Association are sown. The non-profit organization would take that name four years later.

Screeching brake sound, what? Non-profit?

Time machine to today, where the NCAA makes nearly a billion dollars in revenue per year. There’s no way good ole’ Theodore had any clue his safety precautions/organizing plan would become this. Now, let’s understand what happens to this money. Most of it goes back to the schools, plenty of it goes to organizational expenses, and then millions are left over as a surplus for the organization. In 2012 they reported to have $71 million in surplus revenue for that year alone. That’s after they paid NCAA executives millions of dollars.

How do they make this money? Well, we all know that. Student-athletes light up the courts/fields, people pay out the wazoo for seats and jerseys and merchandise. It seems awful familiar to something people get paid millions for just a few years later.

But, an objecting fictitious voice might say, they’re getting scholarships and a free ride to the school! True, they are. Except most of these kids aren’t here for degrees– some of them will never get the chance because they’ll get cut from the team somewhere down the line, and they have to do this to get to the pros. There are rules that athletes out of high school must play in the NCAA for one to two years. So the NCAA is literally taking a year of NBA salary and two years of NFL salary out of some players’ pockets and lining their own with it. The President of the NCAA may have come out and said they don’t like these rules, but that is some embarrassing lip service. What college would turn down a chance to have had Lebron James play for them, instead of jumping straight to the pros as he did? Come on now.

Furthermore, paying a $25,000 a year tuition is not the same as paying a player $25,000 a year. Some of the more impoverished kids can’t afford a handful of tacos or a new shirt. And they can’t get jobs because they’re going to practice, the weight room, to meetings and training all day, when they’re not going to their classes and studying for tests and doing schoolwork. The word student-athlete is thrown around plenty, but the reality is being a student and a college athlete is almost like two full-time jobs, one of them you have to do just for appearances’ sake.

Breaking Down the Math: The Ugly Truth

Mar 9, 2014; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers fans storm the court after Nebraska defeated the Wisconsin Badgers at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Nebraska won 77-68. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska Cornhuskers fans storm the court after Nebraska defeated the Wisconsin Badgers at Pinnacle Bank Arena.  Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports Images

Still riding the fence? Let me throw some statistical findings at you from the NCPA-Drexel University Department of Sport Management study:

1. The average out-of-pocket expenses to the university for a FBS full scholarship athlete was $3,285 for the 2011-12 academic year.

2. 86% of FBS schools’ full scholarships leave their athletes in poverty.

3. Fair market price of FBS football athletes would be $137,357  and $289,031 for basketball athletes. If you subtract the $23,000 ‘value’  of a full scholarship from that, the athletes are being denied $114,153 for football market value and $265,827 for basketball market value per year.

4. The grand total: from 2011 to 2015, a four-year span of collegiate athletes’ careers, NCAA football and basketball student athletes will have lost $6.2 billion dollars of their market value, collectively.

Meanwhile, the college coaches and the NCAA executives are making millions of dollars. Seems fair. In any other organization this would be so outrageous there would be lawsuits and picket lines and strikes galore.

It’s okay though, a fictitious voice might exclaim, they’re going to be paid plenty in the NBA and the NFL!

But they won’t. There’s only room for 1664 spots on all active NFL rosters, and only 450 in the NBA. There’s a veritable sea of student athletes. Most of them will never see a pro field or court. Meanwhile, Texas A&M makes some absurd amount of money selling ‘Johnny Football’ merchandise (which they can, since it’s not technically his name and thus not infringing on rules of using a player’s name or likeness, as ‘amateur athletes’).

The NCAA’s Stance

Apr 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks at a press conference in preparation for the men's Final Four of the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA president Mark Emmert. Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images

The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, said paying student athletes would be turning them “Literally into professionals,” and asserted that “. . .the guiding principle (of the NCAA) has been that this is about students who play sports.”

Yes. Just talented students playing sports. What’s your salary again, Mark? $1.7 million per year you say? They certainly are bringing in money to the NCAA like professionals would. The MLS brings in $280 million in revenue a year, less than a third of the amount the NCAA brings in.

In case you were curious at this point, the NCAA has been dealing with an antitrust lawsuit by a host of former players who claim they deserve millions in compensation for the revenue they’ve generated for the NCAA, so this isn’t necessarily a new concept. In the words of Emmert himself: “This tension has been going on forever and ever. It has gotten greater now because the magnitude of dollars has gotten really, really large.”

It sure has, Mark.

The Simplest Solution

eMar 13, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots a jumpshot during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second round of the Big 12 Conference college basketball tournament at Sprint Center. Kansas won 77-70 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots a jumpshot during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second round of the Big 12 Conference college basketball tournament at Sprint Center. Kansas won 77-70 in overtime. Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports Images

So I must ask the very obvious question: why would paying student-athletes suddenly erase their role as a student-athlete? If a college student gets a job working for the school as door monitor while he gets his education, is he no longer a student?  Is he a professional door monitor? Why can’t a student-athlete get his education, get paid for his work with the team (just because they may enjoy playing the game doesn’t change the fact it is work) and maintain the status quo otherwise? If the player fails his classes or stops going to practice and meetings, cut them the same way teams would now. Some other student athlete is waiting with baited breath to take his or her spot.

Sure, there are some logistical concerns. Some colleges make far less in revenue than others. but I’m not proposing  every school has to pay their athletes hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let it be a meritocracy, like everything else. If you’re good enough to play football for Alabama or LSU or Auburn, get paid the market value that is only a tiny piece of the pie the school makes from your performance. If you go to some nowhere small town school, maybe you get paid only a stipend, but at least the athletes won’t be impoverished. At least they will be able to put food in their mini-fridges. Big name schools pay hundreds of thousands to play the smaller schools (basically paying them to lose to inflate the school’s record) so it’s not like the money isn’t there.

I won’t pretend the logistics wouldn’t be complicated. I would surmise the concept is only fair. As it stands, the NCAA is an incredibly profitable non-profit organization which doesn’t like to share a dime with those who are truly making it possible. I imagine if Teddy Roosevelt could have a meeting with them now, he’d be speaking very softly and be carrying a sizeable chunk of telephone pole.

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