Why the NCAA Needs to Pay the Players

Marquist Parker   Sports Editor

Duke vs UNC is the biggest rivalry in college basketball. When the two schools met earlier in the season, all of the sports world, including President Obama, set their eyes on the ACC matchup. Less than a minute into the game, Duke freshman Zion Williamson hurt his knee, a minor injury that could have been much worse. In the moments when Zion was laying on the floor an inescapable thought crept into the minds of a lot of the sports world: Superstars and former Presidents paid top dollar to see Zion play, but he and his teammates don’t see a dime of that money. The sham that is the NCAA’s definition of amateurism is debated every year in March when they rake in billions of dollars for their March Madness TV deal.

The idea that a school owns the rights to a player’s likeness and are the only ones that can profit off of it is something that doesn’t sit right with a large amount of the sports world. There are a bunch of reasons why the NCAA should stop exploiting college stars for money. Here are a few of them:

Many student athletes struggle financially- The defenders of the NCAA’s exploitation say that the student athletes are on scholarships that cover tuition, fees, meal plans, and other accommodations. While that is true, anybody who attends a college or university knows that working long hours sometimes means finding out that the dining halls are closed for the night before you’ve had a chance to eat there. Athletes, specifically at the division 1 level, sometimes spend well over 40 hours a week, or a full-time job, training for their sport. When the Hurley Hall closes for the night at Eastern, students look off campus for food assuming they can afford it. Also, things like renting and buying suits for mandatory banquets and fundraisers are extra costs that aren’t covered by scholarships. To many people, these things seem like a small price to pay for a full scholarship. But it is important to remember that these scholarships are the only means through which many athletes can make it to college. Many college athletes do not come from privileged backgrounds, and their performance at their sport is one of the few chances they feasibly had at going to college. Many also cannot rely on their parents for the extra money they need to live.

The college apparel market is exploitation- An authentic Zion Williamson Duke Jersey for men costs $96 not including shipping. Zion doesn’t see any of the profits for the hundreds of jerseys and other apparel that Duke sells with his name on it, and if he got $1 of it he would be deemed ineligible to play for the rest of the season by the NCAA. Not only is the university allowed to capitalize on the celebrity of its players; but the players are contractually not allowed to do this themselves. NCAA rules state that student athletes are not allowed to use their likeness for promotional purposes or monetary gain. This means that a well-known athlete cannot charge money for the hours spent signing autographs but the university is able to use the athlete to generate hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars through sales and increased enrollment. Making millions of dollars based on a player’s performance or personality while barring them from accepting even a free taco is not only hypocritical, it is morally questionable.

College coaches already reap the benefits- Here in Connecticut, the highest paid state employee was University of Connecticut’s head football coach Robert Diaco, who made $3.4 million in 2017 (2018 state rankings haven’t been released yet) only to not coach the football team after being fired by the school. University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball coaches make about $6 million combined this year and the players that put in all the work don’t get anything. The amazing part is that what UCONN pays is considered peanuts compared to other schools. Today, it is strange to think that when the NCAA was founded, most people were equally opposed to paying coaches as well as athletes. Many coaches worked primarily for the love of the game. Over 100 years later, the average power-5 football coach makes a salary of $2.05 million every year. If schools believe that spending $7 million a year on a single salary is a good investment, it is difficult to reconcile the schools’ and the NCAA’s stance on compensation for players. After all, money does not seem to be an issue.

Students would leave with more than just a degree-Many college athletes train hard for most of their career with the eventual goal of becoming a full time professional athlete. The main goal of almost any serious athlete is to be drafted at the end of their college career and find themselves in a salaried position on a national team so that they can begin getting paid for their dream. Unfortunately, many college athletes don’t get drafted by the NFL, the NBA or the MLB straight out of college. In fact, the vast majority of college sports players do not end up playing professional sports at all. Whether they aren’t lucky enough to make the cut or their career is cut short by an injury on the college field, many student athletes give everything they have for very little reward.
This means that at the end of four long years, all these athletes have is a degree. It doesn’t matter if you are a star tennis player or a star academic, simply having a degree is no longer enough to compete for jobs in a difficult market. While a fully-funded degree is certainly not nothing, it is far below many athletes’ hopes and expectations. For students who work 90-hour weeks for four or five years, the burn out at the end of the road can be difficult and damaging. Paying college athletes would at least help them leave education with a little bit of money to buy them time to find a new path.

The NCAA can afford it- The NCAA reported a revenue of $1.1 billion for 2017, the same NCAA which operates as a “non-profit organization” which is as laughable as it is ironic. There is no need to dive that deep to find why the idea that the NCAA can’t afford to compensate athletes is ridiculous, just take a look at the top 10 schools in terms of revenue.

Over $1 billion of revenue brought in by just the top 10 schools, there is enough money to go around. While there is nothing wrong with a non-profit organization taking on huge amounts of revenue, it seems that the wealth could be distributed amongst those who are at the heart and soul of the organization: the players. Although the NCAA pays its top executives million-dollar salaries, parents, students and fans do not scramble to snap up the best season tickets to watch some executives play sports. The fans are invested in the players, many of whom have started taking on followings akin to those of famous and established professional players. If the administrators and coaches in the NCAA want to make the same salaries that their colleagues in the pros do, then perhaps they should also reconsider how committed they truly are to the amateurism that the NCAA was founded on. There are many reasons to play the college players. Whether it is to acknowledge their significant contribution to the college or just to ensure that these students leave their college career with something other than a diploma and a “college football injury,” student athletes should be compensated.

After all, Americans don’t spend $11 billion a year to watch men in suits make decisions.

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