There is a growing dispute around the NCAA and its fans about whether collegiate athletes should be paid. This has been a discussion for many years, but in the last few months it has become an extremely hard-pressed topic from journalists, fans and athletes.
The NCAA closed the 2017 fiscal year with a $1.1 billion profit, a majority of which was generated by student athletes throughout various sports around the country. In 2018, the University of Minnesota pulled in nearly a $10 million profit, not a penny of which was seen by players. The NCAA has put in place rules that require athletes to participate for at least 1-2 years, depending on the sports and their age. Many people believe it is unfair that the NCAA locks players and makes money off them without them seeing anything in return.
Many will argue that these athletes are getting their education paid for and, according to the NCAA, a college education is the most rewarding benefit of the student-athlete experience. There is no arguing that benefit is phenomenal, but what about the millions of dollars the university, conferences and NCAA are making after the tuition expenses? Former basketball standout Rashad McCants made headlines when he described the easiness of these paper classes. “You’re not there to get an education,” he said in 2014. “You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”
The time investment that athletes put into their sport resembles that of a professional. Practicing for many hours a day, watching film, and traveling represent a major time commitment. If students were to spend that much time perfecting their musical or acting skills or developing the next Facebook or Microsoft, they’d be able to profit. College athletes should have that same right. Musicians, actors, and entrepreneurs can make significant money while in school. Yet athletes are bound by NCAA rules that prohibit them from being paid or receiving endorsement deals.
In 2018, the NCAA reached an agreement with Turner and CBS sports. Over an eight-year agreement, the media company will pay nearly $8.8 billion just to air the March Madness tournament. In 2015, the cheapest ticket to the Final Four games were $1200. The semi-finals that year attracted nearly 16 million viewers and about 27 million tuned into the national championship. Yet the players receive no compensation for their hard work to get to that point.
There are many reasons to reform this situation, and in the last few months it has become and ever bigger issue around Duke standout forward Zion Williamson. Zion is projected to be the number-one overall pick in this year’s upcoming draft and is on track to receive what is projected to be a $1 billion shoe endorsement contract. During a game in February against their crosstown rivals, North Carolina, Zion tore through his shoe and injured his knee. This could have been a much more catastrophic injury that may have jeopardized his future. This is when many people brought up the question, why continue and risk your future? Zion did ultimately return later in the season. At what point do standout players that are on track to play professional and change not only their lives but those of their families stop playing in the NCAA for free.
The NCAA’s answer to this question was not to start paying their athletes but rather allow the players who are 18 years of age to skip college all together and enter the draft that year.