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Balls and Baubles Part I: Money, Money, Money

Monday, April 07, 2014
By Brelan Hillman

Schools, Leagues, Coaches & Media Rake in the Profits, But What About the "Student-Athletes"?

This is Part I of a two-part part series addressing the injustices of college athletics. Check out Part II to learn about the education these students receive.

While March Madness is one of the best times of the year for American sports fans, it’s also a stark reminder of the injustices permeating through the multi-billion dollar industry of collegiate athletics. On Sunday night in North Texas, a record 79,444 fans paid large sums of money to gain entry into Jerry’s World to see the remaining four teams in the men’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament square off for the opportunity to play in the national championship. A similar number did the same two nights later when the University of Connecticut (UCONN) bested Kentucky in the final game.  

Media giants CBS and Turner Broadcasting jointly paid the NCAA $11 billion to broadcast the sixty-three enormously popular tournament games for a 14 year period. Coaches and athletic directors collect huge paydays to go along with their already lucrative contracts when their teams survive and advance. Apparel sales and alumni donations increase dramatically when a team performs well or a transcendent player comes to campus. A recent report revealed that the $143 million in athletic revenues of University of Alabama were greater than any NHL team and 25 of 30 NBA teams. 

Conversely, the athletes who in no small part help generate the revenue are entitled to little more than a free education (and more on this when we publish Part II of this series) and the glow of the limelight for a few years. Shabazz Napier, two-time champion and this year’s Most O
utstanding Player of the Final Four went to bed hungry some nights; meanwhile, the university profited from his jersey sales and the NCAA championship gear commercial that aired immediately after the nets were cut. 

A System Behind the Times

Under this antiquated regime, the NCAA, schools, administrators, coaches, broadcasting companies, and brands reap great dividends, while a relatively low ceiling suppresses the earning potential of the players who make it all possible. For the stars of sports that turn a profit, the NCAA is indeed a scam that needs to be revamped.

Proponents of the current system, like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, argue that athletes receive compensation via their education, exposure, and opportunity to mature. The two coaching legends make $1,618,661 and $3,413,954 respectively from coaching alone. They opine for the preservation of “student-athletes” and “amateurism,” while demonizing the thought of college athletes receiving salaries. Fans enjoying men’s Division I football and basketball suspend their disbelief that they’re not contributing to the exploitation of these young athletes. 

An ever-increasing groundswell of support for expanding the agency of profit generati

ng players has emerged as more and more people realize and acknowledge the hypocrisy of the current rules. A federal judge recently gave the go-ahead for former UCLA basketball player, Ed O’Bannon’s class action antitrust lawsuit to proceed against the NCAA. In March, labor attorney Jeffery Kessler filed a similar suit against the NCAA and the five power conferences. Moreover, a watershed moment just occurred when the National Labor Relations Board allowed Northwestern football players to unionize. While connotations regarding unions and their bosses give some people pause (Northwestern’s head football coach has urged his players to vote “no”), in reality, the ruling only determined that current Northwestern players are employees and have the ability to collectively bargain. Although the players’ demands are pretty conservative (i.e. healthcare coverage for sports-related injuries and improved concussion protocol), by shedding the farcical “student-athlete” moniker, they have severely weakened the legal argument that empowers the existing NCAA paradigm.

NCAA supporters fear that the unionization of college athletics will destroy the current model. “Pay for Play” advocates retort that the change is necessary. It’s impossible to know how this will all play out. The problem is extremely complex with many layers to consider. For instance, while private universities like Northwestern may be able to unionize, public school ath

letes must traverse the red tape of state labor boards. This could bolster the attractiveness of some programs and undermine the power of others. The potential, unintended consequences are hard to predict. 

What we do know is that the imminent revolution of the college athletic business model will be a long and hard-fought war amongst many powerful and stubborn entities. The outcome will undoubtedly be imperfect and produce more debate. But I, for one, hope that current and former players eventually receive the overdue reciprocation of their efforts. 

In addition to the eradication of free labor, the role of education in college athletics must also be addressed. Check back to read Part II, where academic concerns will be tackled.

Organizations Working for Change

Student Athletes Human Rights Project

Further Reading & Listening Enjoyment

Berry III, William W. "How Labor Unions Can Save the NCAA." Slate.
Bilas, Jay. "Players Should Be Compensated." The New York Times.
Chen, Jen. "Jay Bilas Argues for Colleges to Pay Student Athletes." The Duke Chronicle.
Fatsis, Stefan, Josh Levin and Mike Pesca. "Hang Up and Listen: The Kain Mutiny Edition." Slate.
Jennings, Scott. "Pay College Athletes, But Keep Union Bosses Out of It." The Courier-Journal.
Silverman, Robert. "It's Time to Rip the Money Our of the NCAA." The Daily Beast.

Brelan Hillman is Green Rainbow Revolution's rap star Social Media, Blog, and Tech intern. He graduated with a degree in US History from Duke University, while also dabbling in African American studies. This athlete advocate and hip-hop enthusiast has entrepreneurial and legal professional aspirations and is hoping to eventually fuse his interests and ambitions.

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