Pay the players

NCAA Division I athletes are entitled to the money they make for their schools.

By Dede Ogbueze, Staff Writer

Intercollegiate athletics need radical reform. Division I basketball and football are billion-dollar industries, and athletes who sacrifice their bodies for them deserve a piece of the pie.

This year’s March Madness ended with two miraculous shots from Marcus Paige and Kris Jenkins. The former is a graduating senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the latter is foregoing his senior season at Villanova University to enter the NBA Draft.

Neither Paige nor Jenkins receive a dime of compensation from their universities. Both spent their entire college experience competing for prominent Division I basketball programs that profited millions of dollars off of their efforts.

That is essentially what all NCAA student-athletes agree to when they sign a national letter of intent, and the NCAA and the schools it governs profit directly from their performance. In return, athletes receive a largely free-of-charge college education and an opportunity to pursue a career in professional sports.

This format is no longer feasible for major Division I sports. The decades-old rules and regulations the NCAA operates under are no longer compatible with the commercial climate of college sports.

The Southeastern Conference’s tax returns for the 2015 fiscal year reveal $527.4 million in total revenue, as reported by USA Today Sports. This figure includes the first year of operation of the SEC Network, the conference’s in-house TV network, and marks a 60 percent increase from revenue in 2014. It’s shocking that the athletes that generate this wealth will never see a penny of it.

NCAA officials argue that scholarships are enough compensation, when in reality, scholarships do not completely cover tuition. Not only that, but most athletic scholarships are awarded on a year-to-year basis. This means that an athlete’s tenure at their university is contingent on his or her performance and is at the discretion of their university.

This isn’t exactly an even exchange. In fact, it is so one-sided that in 2011, the NCAA approved $2,000 yearly stipends for athletes in order to “make the scholarships more valuable,” according to Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA. Emmert insists that a pay-for-play system would compromise the integrity of college sports.

Many people do not want to befoul tradition by paying college athletes. President Barack Obama said that paying student-athletes would “ruin the sense of college sports” in a 2015 interview with The Huffington Post.

The NCAA defends itself with the ridiculous notion of “preserving amateurism.” However, any athlete, coach or fan for that matter knows there is nothing amateur about Division I NCAA basketball and football. Athletes are treated as employees, not students, and their value to the school is solely tied to their ability to perform in the field of play.

A class-action lawsuit filed against UNC-CH and the NCAA in 2015 claims that student-athletes spend up to 50 hours a week in practice and team-related activities, more than the average American work week.

It also alleges that UNC denied thousands of athletes over a span of almost 20 years a legitimate education by convincing them to take “shadow courses.” Student-athletes were placed in classes that never met and were not taught by a faculty member, padding their GPAs in order to remain eligible to play.

Emmert argues that athletes’ motivation for playing sports is the opportunity for a free education. This idea is laughable and an outright lie. More dangerous, however, is that this narrative is being pushed on poor, working-class parents who believe their child is given a chance to earn a college degree. In reality, their children are being enrolled in fraudulent courses meant to keep them in practice and out of class.

The concept of spoiled Division I athletes living larger than life is a myth. Many of these athletes come from underprivileged families and do not have any of the advantages that typical college students share. In many cases, they are not living in their hometown, so they are unable to receive basic support from their families, and unlike most students, their schedule does not permit them time to work a part-time job.

A joint study conducted by the NCPA and Drexel University shows that each scholarship left $3,222 in annual out-of-pocket expenses for players. The study also highlighted that 85 percent of players living on campus and 86 percent of players living off campus fell below the federal poverty line.

The NCAA’s refusal to pay college athletes has ultimately done more harm than good. Several infamous college football cases reflect this: the SMU “death penalty,” the “Scam Newton” incident and the dismantling of the USC football program after several violations under head coach Pete Carroll. Players need to be compensated by their schools, or outsiders will.

The only reasonable routes forward are to either discontinue the academic relationship between the players and the universities, allowing them to compete as independent contractors, or to pay student-athletes. It is at best irresponsible, and at worst, downright slavery to require someone to provide a service without proper compensation. Not only is the NCAA’s refusal to pay Division I basketball and football players unfair, it is at the very least a violation of labor laws.

At the very least, athletes could be paid minimum wage, providing them a means to support themselves without the forsaken “bidding war” that traditionalists fear would interfere with the amateurism of collegiate sports.

The allure of college basketball and football lies in fans seeing their schools represented by fellow students. However, it isn’t the burden of the athletes to uphold the “amateurism” illusion that the NCAA shields itself with.

 

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