I wrote a research paper on this topic for class last year, but I’m gonna try and keep this blog as short as possible because no one wants to voluntarily read a research paper. I got a B+ on the paper by the way, but it got bumped down to a B because the department head told my professor it was “barely even good enough for a B.” Clearly she wasn’t a basketball fan. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard the argument a million times before: Should college athletes get paid? In my mind, the clear answer is yes- at least for NCAA basketball players. I’m not arguing for the payment of Division 2 croquet players (is that a thing? Someone fact check that for me.) Here are three reasons why NCAA basketball players aren’t currently being fairly compensated.
They Generate a LOT of Revenue
For them not to see a dime of the huge amount of revenue they bring in is a crime. How much revenue? Well, CBS pays about $1.1 billion for the TV rights to the NCAA Tournament alone. That’s just the TV deal for postseason play. This doesn’t even include other revenue streams, such as ticket sales, merchandise, or teams’ regular season TV deals. Big-time programs can bring in upwards of $5 million of profit (not revenue, profit) on their own each year. Louisville brought in a league-high $24 million of profit in 2015. Now, I’m not saying college players should earn millions per year. Maybe they could each earn a standard salary in the $20-$50,000 range, or the NCAA could set a $5 million or so salary cap as Mr. Walker suggested. At the very least, compensate these players for their time. They spend countless hours practicing, in the weight room, and watching film. At Rutgers, minimum wage just got raised to $11 for on-campus jobs (some kids are trying to get it raised to $15 but I don’t think they understand why that would be a horrible idea, but that’s another topic.) Why doesn’t Corey Sanders receive anything when he puts four hours in at the gym, but I’m compensated at $11 an hour to supervise students playing intramural basketball at the campus gym? I know what some of you are thinking. “They aren’t paid in cash, they get compensated with an education.” That brings me to my next point.
The “Educations” Many of These Players Receive Are Bogus
Of all NCAA basketball players, only 1.1% will go on to play professionally. So for every Marvin Bagley, there are 99 kids who will have to figure something else out after college. Luckily for them, they’ll graduate with a college degree, right? Well, some of them. The NCAA reported that the average graduation rate for NCAA men’s basketball teams was 78% in 2017. Not bad, right? There’s two problems with that. First, many of these schools don’t care how players pass their classes, they just want to make sure they stay eligible. Take North Carolina, for example. Perennial basketball powerhouse, last year’s NCAA Champion, and my favorite college team. From 1989-2012, they enrolled athletes in “paper classes,” which “had no instruction, never met, and only required a final paper, which often included significant amounts of unoriginal or plagiarized material.” Basically they had their athletes taking fake classes to boost their GPAs and keep them game eligible. Clearly they value these players’ educations. Let’s say that a school really does care about an athlete’s education, and makes him attend classes and complete assignments on his own. Are they gonna let their top basketball recruit major in engineering or business? No, they’re gonna have him take some BS major (not gonna name one so I don’t offend anyone) so that his focus is on basketball, not school. In a 2007 survey of NCAA athletes, 11% stated that their sport prevented them from pursuing the major they wanted to, 69% said it prevented them from taking classes they desired, and 53% said they were not able to spend as much time on academics as they would like. This survey included athletes of all sports from Divisions 1 through 3, so these numbers likely would’ve been even higher within a sport as demanding as Division 1 basketball. So my question is this: how is it fair that players are being “compensated” with an education when these schools clearly make basketball their top priority?
There’s one more reason the current compensation system is broken. This one is the most mind-boggling to me, as it doesn’t even require any kind of investment from the NCAA or its schools.
Get Rid of “Amateurism” Laws
In case you didn’t know, every NCAA athlete has to be an “amateur,” or not a professional. That makes sense to me. If Markelle Fultz stinks in his first year in the NBA, he shouldn’t be able to come back and play at Washington. But the NCAA’s definition of an “amateur” extends far beyond whether or not you’ve played professionally before. Here are some violations of amateur status as the NCAA lists on their website.
So what are a few examples of what athletes can’t do in order to maintain eligible with the NCAA? They can’t sell their own autograph or memorabilia, get paid to make public appearances, or sign any endorsement deals. How are you going to tell a player they can’t make money off of being themselves? And don’t tell me they can “wait until they get to the NBA,” because like I said before, only 1% of these players are making it there. What if a starter at Nebraska with no real NBA potential gets offered $1,000 to appear in a local car dealership commercial? Or a restaurant offers him money to appear there and greet some fans? You’re telling me he shouldn’t be NCAA eligible anymore because he chooses to do these things? Some of these players grow up poor, and basketball is their only hope. Why not let them make some money while continuing their education and college careers? Joel Berry can’t sell his jersey that he plays in, but I’m sure the UNC bookstore is selling jerseys with #2 on the back for $40 a pop. Does it have his name on the back? No, but everyone buying one knows damn well that it’s a Joel Berry jersey. For him not to see any of that money is blasphemous.
So here are the problems with compensation of college basketball players. Here’s my simple solution in three steps.
- Revise the rules of amateurism to allow players to profit off of themselves. If a guy wants to sell his autograph or make a paid appearance, let him. As long as he’s not playing professionally somewhere, let him do whatever he wants.
- Have schools pay players a small yearly amount to compensate for their time. Whether it’s paying every player a yearly stipend of a few thousand dollars or a salary cap that allows top recruits to earn more, the players should see at least some of these billions of revenue.
- Tailor curriculum to the individual needs of every athlete. Marvin Bagley is declaring for the draft this year. Why pretend he isn’t? Have him take classes in financial literacy, and other aspects of life he’ll need to know for when he goes pro. But a guy who probably isn’t going to the NBA? Get him a more valuable major. Schools should sit down with these kids before their freshman year and figure out a path that makes sense for them. Should a player who had a 2.3 GPA in high school come to Michigan to play basketball and major in electrical engineering? Probably not, but there’s gotta be a way to have him graduate with a useful degree while he simultaneously keeps his grades high enough to play.