In 2015, the world witnessed one of the most exciting Final Fours in basketball history. In a stunning upset, Greg Gard’s Wisconsin Badgers toppled John Calipari’s legendary Kentucky Wild Cats, then went on to battle the Duke Blue Devils in a nail biting match up that saw Duke’s historic gang come out on top by a mere 5 points.
That year, many of the players who played in the tournament went on to sign generous pro contracts, and are still leading successful careers.
However, behind the dazzling dribbles and the deep threes and gravity defying dunks that left us enamored, there’s a startling and troubling fact.
After the 2015 NCAA tournament had finished, many of the teams collected enormous paychecks. According to Forbes, Kentucky earned more than $8.2 million after they were eliminated. Several other programs had multi million dollar pay days. However, not a single dollar of that money went to any of the players.
As college basketball programs enter conference play and the season kicks into full gear, teams will fight harder than ever for a chance to win the NCAA championship. The stakes will grow higher as the money increases, and in turn, the debate will grow louder — should college athletes be paid?
According to a list compiled by USA Today finances, 24 school athletic programs made more than $100,000,000 in the 2014–2015 athletic year. Texas A&M topped the list at $192,608,876. From that sum, it’s not rare for a coach to earn a multi million dollar salary. In 2016, Jim Harbaugh made $9 million dollars — more than other any college coach in the country.
Furthermore, in the 2011–2012 athletic season, the NCAA earned $871.6 million dollars, a majority of which was a result of a rights agreement between the NCAA and Turner/CBS Sports.
The simple fact of the matter is this — the astronomical sums that the NCAA, coaches, and top programs rake in annually would not exist without the hardworking student athletes who fuel the programs year after year. It’s only fitting that we fairly compensate those that power one of the highest grossing sporting enterprises in the United States.
Though the idea of player compensation is not a new one, more people have come out in defense of the idea. One figure that immediately comes to mind is Ben Simmons, who lambasted the NCAA upon leaving Louisiana State University for the NBA. “The NCAA is really fucked up. Everybody is making money except the players!” Simmons said in an interview.
In 2014, Uconn guard Shabazz Napier told reporters in an interview that there were nights when he went to bed “starving”, because of a lack of money. Immediately, a more substantial audience began to consider the plight of undercompensated athletes.
On major networks like CNN and ESPN, there have been segments dedicated to hashing out the argument of paying college athletes. In a passionate and informed rebuttal, CBS’s Jay Bilas opined, “This isn’t high school sports… This is a multi billion dollar business that is professional in everyway expect how the athlete is allowed to be compensated… Why should we deny athletes the right to fair compensation and market value?”
Jay Williams used a brilliant argument to explain why college athletes need to get paid. He compared the NCAA to a typical company. At normal businesses, when profit increases, employees take more money home. However, that’s not the case with the NCAA. Each year, players are given the same compensation. A scholarship. We can’t allow ourselves to believe this is enough as the economy for college sports begins to grow more rapidly.
Over the last decade, the debate of whether or not college athletes should be paid has intensified. As college sports become more profitable, it will become more important that schools and the NCAA pay athletes fairly.
This year, as we watch college athletes compete in our favorite sports on the big screen, we’ll witness people playing out their childhood dreams, chasing championships, and cementing their own glory, as well as their schools. However, let us hope that in the future, college athletes will begin to receive the compensation they deserve.