The Blog

NCAA Athletes Finally Demanding to Be Paid: A Professor's Perspective

The NCAA loves to put professional pressure on the backs of young athletes, while keeping nearly all the professional rewards for themselves.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Over 300 college football and basketball players are now demanding that the NCAA come out and share a piece of their multi-billion dollar economic pie. Scores of athletes have signed a petition asking the NCAA to "realize its mission to educate and protect us with integrity."

Players from prominent athletic programs such as Kentucky and UCLA have joined with the National College Players Association to sign the petition, which was sent to the NCAA last week.

Among other things, the petition asks the NCAA to put aside funds from an estimated $775 million in new TV deals into an '"educational lock box" for athletes in revenue-generating sports. The money could be used to cover educational expenses for the athletes if the athletes use up their eligibility before they graduate. Most significantly, the players get the money with no strings attached once they graduate.

"I really want to voice my opinions," said Georgia Tech defensive end Denzel McCoy. "The things we go through, the hours we put in, what our bodies go through, we deserve some sort of (results). College football is a billion dollar industry."

McCoy says that the other players on his team signed the petition "with ease," as they are starting to learn their economic value. Currently, the NCAA earns more money during its post season than the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. The Pac 12 conference just signed a $3 billion dollar television rights deal with Fox Sports, with coaches and administrators making their families wealthy with the proceeds. At the same time, a large percentage of the athletes who actually earn the money have families who live in poverty.

A 2010 study done at Ithaca College showed that the average NCAA athlete in revenue-generating sports operates at a personal deficit, paying $2,951 per year in school-related costs. They are also not allowed to get jobs or receive money from outside sources, so their scholarships do not cover their entire cost of attending college. All the while, many universities receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from every single nationally televised basketball or football game, and NCAA executives live a lavish lifestyle with very high salaries.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said the NCAA "redirects nearly all of its revenue to support student-athletes."

Of its approximately $775 million in annual revenues, the NCAA invests 96 percent, or 96 cents of every dollar, in student-athletes through direct distributions to individual campuses and conferences; the funding and administration of national championships; and other direct support, such as the Student Assistance and Academic Enhancement funds in Division I.

What I find so interesting about Bob Williams' "funny math" (I'm sure he himself earns a few hundred thousand dollars per year off the backs of NCAA athletes) is that if it were true that most of the NCAA revenue were going to student athletes, then he would not have millions of dollars to pay NCAA coaches. The list of the highest paid coaches in college football shows that even the poorest of coaches on the list (Jeff Tedford at The University of California), earned $2.3 million dollars last year. The highest paid coach (Nick Saban at Alabama) earned over $5 million. When you're forcing yourself to share misleading information or tell flat-out lies to protect the "integrity" of a deeply flawed system (as well as refusing to debate your position in public -- we couldn't get the NCAA to appear with us on CNN or ESPN), you're pretty much working to defend something that simply can't be justified.

As a professor at the college level for the last 18 years, I can say that the NCAA is likely the most corrupt system in America, behind the prison industrial complex. Even ignoring the glaring racial divides, I've seen countless cases in which athletes have had a tremendous amount of pressure put on them by coaches who are only hired to win games and earn their multi-million dollar salaries. Studying becomes an extracurricular activity for the athlete who is being coached by a man who is only rewarded for a high winning percentage, not graduation rates. By systemic design, any athlete who tries to put academics ahead of athletics is severely punished for doing so.

The NCAA seems to want to maintain a principle of equity through amateurism. I have no problem with this idea if it is applied fairly. So, if the multi-million dollar basketball player must have a compensation level that matches the kid on the soccer team, then the basketball coach should have the same salary as the soccer coach. Also, athletes should not be asked to play games on school nights, and they should be allowed to miss games if they have an exam. Finally, the same rule stating that athletes are not allowed to receive gifts or benefits from their work should apply to coaches and the NCAA itself, who are quick to sign every endorsement deal they can get their hands on. You can't have it both ways.

But of course my ideas represent a fantasy world. It would cost too much for the NCAA to actually make education a top priority. If education were the dominant focus of the NCAA, they would restrict coaching salaries to less than $100,000 per year, and structure contracts that reward coaches for educating players, not winning games. The NCAA loves to put professional pressure on the backs of young athletes, while keeping nearly all the professional rewards for themselves. They ask the athletes to do all the work, while administrators, coaches and commentators keep the bulk of the money... all they have to do is maintain the label "amateur student athlete," even if every aspect of the athlete's existence serves as evidence to the contrary.

Athletes deserve labor rights, they should be allowed to unionize, and they should have the same rights as any other American to earn money from whomever they please. It should not be a scandal whenever a player bringing millions to the university is able to get a few thousand dollars from a booster to keep his mother from being evicted. To accept the system in its current form is nothing less than entirely unethical and unAmerican. NCAA administrators should be ashamed.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of ALARM, The Athlete Liberation Academic Reform Movement. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

Popular in the Community