Dr. Boyce: NCAA Athletes Now Demanding to be Paid Like their Coaches

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action

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. 

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Dr. Boyce: NCAA Athletes Now Demanding to be Paid Like their Coaches

  1. Nat Turner

    a petition by the student athletes will not get the attention of the ncaaa. until they file a class action lawsuit, they are wasting time. asking the ncaa to share revenue with the student athletes is like a slave asking his master to give him a portion of the money from the cotton he picked…it’s not going to happen!

  2. maddhooper

    its about time. college gives palyers an chance to play sports on N BIG STAGE. take a baskeball team of 12 to 15 guys just say is 10 to 15 thousand per year for a player times 12 over fours years thats about 1.5 million. over four years just has that is so the fab five genarated millions in tv apperal and tickets they act look like pros but no pay. cant take ur woman out on a date now these are grown men. coaches get 6 figure deals for coaching and 6 figures for tv show plus shoe deal so what aBOUT THE ALTHETE EVERY BODY GETS PAID BUT THE PLAYER HOT DAM

  3. Education101

    I am sorry but I don’t fully agree with athletes getting paid in college. I thought college was about education not sports. In the top tier school, a lot of these athletes get the best of everything. Full scholarships, the best dorms, the best food, assistance with their classes (because they are not attending due to a game)…the list can and does go on. What about the financial value to that and they want money at the end of school? Where in the real word does that happen? Let’s say I am using my design talents for Disney and create a new kids character that becomes wildly popular and make Disney a lot of money….do I get a piece of that…no…just my normal paycheck. That’s how it works. Also, what about non-revenue or low revenue generating sports are they just left out in the cold?

    I know these folks are talented…and may think think they have a right to be paid…but I don’t. I worked my way through college, financed with scholarships, grants and loans that I am still paying for today (10 years later), that is how a majority of us got through college. Walk in our shoes before you start whining that a free education isn’t enough.

    PS. Please don’t respond to say how “special” athletes are, as only a fraction makes it on to their respective pro leagues.

  4. HOWARD

    i know its about education but the school and that sports prograM MAKE BIG MONEY ON OR SHOULD I SAY OFF THE PLAYERS I KNOW CAUSE I BEEN THRU IT. COACHES MAKE IN THE MILLIONS FOR THE GAME THEY COACH THE MORE THEY WIN THE MORE MONEY THEY CAN MAKE IN THE PROGRAM THAT SOUNDS LIKE A BUSINESS AND THE PLAYERS ARE THE PRODUCT THAT MAKE THEM PROS.

  5. Education101

    Howard…I never said it wasn’t a business….and just like in a business the CEOs and senior executives (coaches) makes all the money while doing less work, while the workers (athletes) makes little money doing the majority of the work…welcome to the real world and capitalism in America……

  6. The Oracle

    Education101,

    You are wrong. I might be self-righteous about this, but you are wrong. The entire NCAA system was set up to enrich those who control it and keep the athletes broke. Walter Byers, who was the first executive director of the NCAA, admitted as much after he retired from that position. He said the entire system was based off schools colluding with each other to gain financially off unpaid labor (college athletes). And rules were created to ensures that happens. Byers created the term student-athlete so the NCAA could justify to the courts not having to compensate severely injured student-athletes who filed workers’ compensation suits.

    Sure, some schools provides the best facilities or what have you for student-athletes, but that came about due to the NCAA and its member schools being shamed or forced into providing those amenities.

    You talk about feeling sorry for non-revenue generating sports being left out if football and basketball players get paid. Football and basketball helps pay for volleyball, tennis, golf and baseball. Without football and basketball, those other sports would have a hard time being funded. Many would cease to exist.

    Then you say what is the value of an education? Well, it has been studied that football and basketball players spend nearly 40 hours a week (games, practice, travel and training) on their sport. That’s a full-time job. The UConn Huskies basketball team (who won the national championship last season) spent a total of six days on campus from the start of the Big East tournament until the end of the Final Four. That almost a full month missing classes. Oh, and you have baseball players taking final exams during the College World Series.

    You lament about the players get paid, but what about other folks? Did you know that band directors get salary bonuses when the football team makes a bowl game? Did you know athletic directors get bonuses when the football team becomes bowl-eligible or (wins six games during the regular season)?

    Did you know that school officials use the money generated from these sports for political favors and other non-university operations?

    Did you also know that EA Sports ( the folks who produce the popular Madden video games) has to reimburse all NFL players who appear in the game? However, EA Sports doesn’t have to reimburse college athletes who appear in the college basketball or football versions of game. Why? According to the NCAA, student-athletes can’t make money off their name or likeness. The NCAA and its member schools own those rights forever once that kid signs his national letter of intent.

    This weekend, tickets for the LSU-Alabama football game are going for as high as $5,000. This is for ONE regular season COLLEGE game in November mind you. Standing room only tickets for this COLLEGE football game cost more than some World Series tickets. Too much money is being made off these kids for them not to ask for a piece of the pie.

    You should be supporting this cause as well, my friend. Why? You said you had to pay student loans and work your way through school. You should be asking yourself why is it necessary to get in so much debt before having a career or job to pay it off? Why do we need to pay for education in the first place? In other countries kids go to college for free. Yet, we believe it is fine for a 21 or 22-year-old to be in $50,000 in debt here, and other entities should just get a piece of our earnings over 10, 15, 20 or 25 years in some cases.

    If you really research and dig into what this system is all about, you will side with these kids.

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