With the conclusion of one of college athletics’ most splendid and eye-popping events last week, countless fans and players alike were wondering the same question: where is this money going again?
It’s truly difficult — trust me, I did it — to stand inside a football arena filled with 77,000 fans, watching a tiny basketball court in the center and not think about how much money was being thrown around. The price of admission alone was extravagant — and that’s not even counting all the overpriced food and merchandise being passed from the hands of NCAA vendors to willingly paying fans.
Of course, the NCAA was extremely careful to make sure that none of the merchandise mentioned the real stars of this event, the actual reason 77,000 people were in the stadium: the basketball players.
If the merchandise made any reference to any of the players from the four schools of North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Gonzaga, then it would “cross the line” and mean that the NCAA was making money on the backs of these players who, of course, would never see a dime of that money. Isn’t it interesting how that’s “the line that can’t be crossed,” and yet there is no issue with the NCAA making $8.8 billion over the next eight years from broadcasting these players on television? Because that definitely doesn’t count as profiting on players’ likenesses.
Numerous fans and past players criticized the NCAA, which is not new for the organization, including former Duke shooting guard J.J. Redick who wrote in a tweet, “Congrats to UNC. Seriously. Also- every player on the court tonight should have been paid. Scholarships don’t count. Don’t @ me.” This received over 16,000 retweets. Ex-Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky also voiced his displeasure over the current system in a Twitter battle with ESPN analyst Dan Dakich.
Even at the post-game awards ceremony for the 2017 Men’s National Championship game, fans shared many of the same sentiments as Redick and Kaminsky. When NCAA President Mark Emmert took the stage to officially present the championship trophy to North Carolina, every fan in the stadium began booing Emmert profusely. It reverberated around the stadium and was as loud — if not louder — than the cheers for North Carolina a moment later. Some fans standing near me at the trophy presentation began yelling, “Pay the players, Mark! Come on, pay the players!”
At this point, it should be clear to see how many outside of the NCAA feel about this issue. “Not pleased” is putting it lightly. Within the NCAA, however, Emmert has continuously fought back against the idea of paying large sums of money to athletes.
“To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor league sports,” Emmert explained in 2014. “And we know that in the U.S., minor league sports aren’t very successful either for fan support or for the fan experience.”
Furthermore, the NCAA would argue that it is due to the success of a large event like the Final Four that other “lesser” sports, like golf or tennis to name a couple, can be funded. Essentially, the argument goes, the men’s college basketball Final Four or college football Bowl games are at the top of the NCAA waterfall, which then flows down to all of the other sports throughout NCAA DI, DII and DIII.
Yet numerous counter-arguments dispute this claim. One line of reasoning concerns coaches’ salaries, arguing that they should not be paid as if they are the players on the floor. Kentucky’s coach John Calipari just signed a deal that pays him $7.1 million per season. When Tubby Smith was the coach of the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, he was the highest paid state employer. Couldn’t even half a million of that money go to help the players pay for expenses like dorm costs, extra food costs, gasoline costs or the fees of extra books?
Another way to free up a bit of that money would be to “stop making training facilities look like something out of MTV Cribs,” as a recent online Forbes article argued.
All in all, it might be time to stop looking at simply a college tuition as a fair payment for playing sports for colleges, especially when these players are bringing in millions of dollars for their respective schools. Even high-profile college athletes like Kaminsky, who is now in the NBA, have difficulty paying for things while in college. In one of his tweets, he explained, “No. I didn’t get paid. I left there (Wisconsin) with no money and still owed rent through my lease. Actually lost money. Glad I was good at bball tho…”
In an article published by the Huffington Post, Steve Siebold — a former professional athlete — went even further, writing, “There’s nothing wrong with a college degree … the problem, however, is that a college degree on its own isn’t going to make anyone successful.” He laments the fact that while it is a blessing for DI athletes to have their educations paid for, the NCAA needs to go a step further to help them survive comfortably by giving them a larger slice of the pie, especially since many of these athletes devote a large majority of their free time to the sports they play.
To be fair to the NCAA, a small — as in, extremely tiny — baby step has been taken in the past couple years to give a little more money back to the athletes. Starting in the 2015-2016 season, some DI schools paid small stipends above and beyond scholarships to their players.. The stipend varied by school and ranged from $1,500 to $5,000. However, most of the schools handing out these stipends were within the “power five conferences,” or the teams belonging to the most well-known and richest conferences in the country. Athletes at smaller Division I schools did not receive this luxury.
When the Kansas City Star reported on these changes in 2016, they interviewed a Missouri football player named Ian Simon. He was still not satisfied with these small changes, which essentially amounted to an extra couple hundred dollars per month.
“I know we’re getting an education, but it’s not really free when you’re putting in 40 or 50 hours a week on your sport,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into that scholarship that’s not really free.”
Reading through this article, you might be sitting here thinking, “Okay, but I care about Wheaton College, a Division III school where the athletes are not even given scholarships. Certainly you can’t arguing that these athletes should be paid, too?”
Of course not. Yes, I’m arguing — as other qualified experts and analysts have argued before me — that Division I college athletes should be paid more money on top of their scholarship. But I’m also arguing that if Division I athletes are being paid, then — by virtue of a trickle down effect — Division III athletes, of which Thunder athletes qualify, should be compensated in a different way: small scholarships.
At Wheaton, students can earn the President’s scholarship if their grades and SAT or ACT scores are up to the college’s standards. No, it’s not a large chunk of change, but in the grand scheme of things it certainly helps.
This is similar to what the NCAA should do for Division III athletes. Of course these athletes are not selling out huge stadiums or playing sports for 50 hours per week like many of the Division I athletes, but they are devoting anywhere from 20-35 hours per week of their time to their respective sport. Speaking as a former Division III athlete for Wheaton’s men’s soccer team, I can attest to this fact.
This time adds up fast and makes it incredibly difficult to find time for anything else such as internships, volunteer opportunities or even, at times, school work — all of which businesses look for when they hire new employees out of college. Since almost all DIII athletes are not going to play professionally, they must hit the job market just like any other college graduate.
This is not to mention the fact that many of these DIII schools are private and can often cost much more than a public college or university. Spending 20-35 hours a week playing a sport does not lend itself to extra time to work a paying job or internship on the side, either. Essentially, this causes a “double whammy” where players are not being paid to play, nor are they afforded any time to work other jobs to help with the cost of their education.
Therefore, these DIII athletes should also receive small scholarships for playing, too. In order to eliminate the potential problem of giving too much money to one player and not enough to another, each player should be given the same amount across the DIII level, regardless of gender. It wouldn’t be a full scholarship, not by any means. But if it was a smaller amount that would at least help these athletes in some small way, that would be a more-than-worthwhile investment.
Certainly, this payment structure would involve the NCAA handing back millions in dollars to these schools from all divisions, yet in the grand scheme of things, there is certainly enough money to go around. Trust me. When announcers, coaches and anyone associated with sports at the highest Division I level are being paid in the millions, then there is definitely money to spare. So don’t let the NCAA tell you otherwise.
And here’s the kicker, even the president of the NCAA is being paid in the millions. USA Today reported that in 2014, the NCAA paid Emmert $1.9 million in total compensation.
Truly, the hardest part of the whole equation is simply getting the NCAA to make some sort of change. The athletes have very little leverage and the only time that any change has been made was when lawsuits have been brought against the NCAA.
Recently, the United States women’s national teams for soccer and hockey made news for both forcing higher pay scales. However, both teams had to fight extremely hard against the U.S. Soccer Federation and USA Hockey in order to obtain reasonable salaries. For the women’s hockey team, only after threatening to boycott the world championship, gaining backing from the media and general public and having 20 senators write letters to USA Hockey on their behalf did anything change — and even then, USA Hockey finally agreed only three days before the start of the world championships.
Is that what it would take for things to change in the college sports landscape, too? Logistically, it is almost impossible to envision, but I’m sure a boycott of all college sports would greatly damage the NCAA. The obvious problem with this would be the drastic size of college sports, but still, you get the picture — this is a tough task, and not one that would be solved in a day or a year.
All in all, no matter how daunting the task or the details, the one part of the equation that certainly remains is this: all the player-earned wealth cannot simply stay with the NCAA forever. Something has to change.