The controversy over whether student athletes should be paid or not has been a discussion for the past decade or so. Many oppose the thought of diminishing the "amateur" level of sports while those with little say in the matter hope for a change. The third point on the NCAA's website, detailing amateurism rules prohibits any "prize money above actual and necessary expenses." No one side is completely right or has the best answer but one thing has always remained the same, students don't get paid. Even though there is a lot of grey area, one thing is for sure; if a pay-to-play ruling is ever made in the players favor it will be almost impossible to reverse.
Should student-athletes be able to unionize and have collective bargaining? Many argue that these players are not just student-athletes anymore but employees. Try telling that to the athletes that bring in just under 1 billion dollars to the NCAA in revenue annually. With such a high rate of return and relatively no labor expenses compared to the number of students-athletes, division I colleges bring in an unprecedented amount of revenue. On the surface, it is all legal too. Athletes agree to the terms to accept tuition, room and board, books and also accept to be uncompensated for their efforts. It is hard to say the NCAA is in the wrong when everything is completely legal and contractually binding between each school and athlete. The student-athletes want a change but, it's hard to make a change when you are the enabler to the "problem" itself.
By going and accepting these conditions it creates momentum that is hard to stop unless a good majority of the group take some actions. Some student-athletes have taken action and the NCAA to court. Recently the NCAA has been under the spot light and it doesn't seem like it's going away anytime soon. In 2014 the Northwestern football team created a petition and sent it to the NCAA asking to be able to unionize. Basically, the student-athletes were asking to have the option of collective bargaining. This would mean the school would have to negotiate some sort of compensation with the athletes that were to join the union. The NCAA of course was not too fond of the petition and ruled that under federal law the student-athletes are not necessarily employees and therefore cannot unionize. So, the next step in the process began as the student athletes took their petition to the Nation Labor Relation Board or NLRB. When the first ruling came out, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of the players, saying that under common law they should be represented as employees. While this would have been a big step for collegiate athletes, Northwestern appealed the decision and in August of 2015 the NRLB ruled in favor of the university (Strauss, 2015). The ruling stated that "Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that because of the nature of sports leagues...it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case (Levinson, 2015)." While the ruling was not in favor of the northwestern football players, the ruling did not say anything about the biggest controversy. Are the player's employees or not? So, the door has been left open for other schools and students to possibly push for a change seeing as though no precedent has been set. Ed O'Bannon, who led the 1995 UCLA bruins to a national championship for basketball, sued the NCAA when he was troubled by his likeness on a video game. In his lawsuit, which began in 2009 and ended in late 2014, the federal judge ruled that the NCAA was in "violation of the Sherman antitrust laws (Berkowitz 2014)." The NCAA tried to defend its position by using the amateur model but the Judge Wilken rejected this. Judge Wilken stated that she could not see how paying student-athletes would diminish demand for the product (Ferrantella, 2014). So why is it that so many other student-athletes are having their rights infringed upon? When these rules were made, they were acceptable and feasible but in today's society things have changed, and the rule book should change with the time. Quite a few other ex-players joined O'Bannon's fight and started a class action lawsuit which is still in the courts.
Many suspect multiple more lawsuits like this to be filed in years to come, seeing the result O'Bannon received. The players do not go empty handed though. Tuition, room and board, and books are not cheap and when you have over a hundred athletes the expenses can get high. Still nothing compared to the amount of revenue an organization like Wisconsin or an SEC institution brings in. Not every student-athlete has it all paid for but to keep things simple, let's look at an athlete with the "full-ride." Full-ride meaning tuition, room and board, and books all paid for and maybe a small stipend from week to week. What a lot of people over look and don't take into account is all the professional training, access to facilities and anything else the player needs. Much of this a person would have to pay a pretty penny for in today's world but they receive it for "free."
Most importantly though, they walk away with an education and how is one supposed to price education, especially a free one. Many have made estimates to what student-athletes already receive and portray it monetarily. The consensus from multiple different reports is ballparked around 125 thousand dollars for the average "full-ride" student-athlete. And they're still asking for more? This may seem like a lot but compared to the numbers on the NCAA's financial statement of what they brought in and the deals with CBS and Turner, you may start to see the frustration.
Money speaks for itself, but so does commitment and hard work. Student-athletes onaverage give about 43.5 hours a week to practice and other sports related activities (Edelman, 2014). This is three and half more hours than the typical American work week. Instead of being able to get a job and earn an income during these hours they are committed to sports. Who brings in all that revenue? Not the board of directors for the NCAA. People don't pay to watch the NCAA; they pay to watch Darren McFadden bust through a hole and take it 60 yards for a game winning touchdown. 8 percent of revenue comes from things other than what is directly related to the players.
The NCAA is a non-profit organization which means almost all of its proceeds are put back into the members of the organization. "All but 4 percent of NCAA revenue is either returned directly to member conferences and institutions or used to support championships and programs that benefit student-athletes (NCAA)." Four percent is not that much at first glimpse but when you take the monetary value of that four percent, of the 11 billion dollars in expected revenue, it comes out to be around 440 million dollars. Now this is over a span of 14 years because about 81% of this revenue is coming from deals with CBS and Turner (NCAA). None the less a little under 40 million is quite a lot annually. If there is demand for a product, you increase the supply which in turn increases costs, except for the NCAA.
The organization states that they put the money back into the programs that bring it in but it is hard to not see the money only being exchanged between a few hands. In forty of our fifty great states, the highest paid public official is the head football coach of the state college (Edelman, 2014). Just to give you a little perspective here is a chart showing the top ten schools with the highest athletic department revenues and what is put into three different departments.
There is a cap on how many and the amount of scholarships each university offers so that competition is level. The cap though restricts the players more than the actual universities. Nick Saban, Alabama's head football coach, is one of the highest paid coaches in all of sports. He will be getting a pay check for around seven million dollars this year while his players will be under compensated monetarily for another year in a row. The market value for the coach is at this price tag while the players who take all the physical risk are held to strict rules and standards.
Collectively, professional sports players earn around fifty percent of the revenue that is brought in which is due to fifty years of collective bargaining (Goff, 2014). With this being said the salary pool for all student athletes under the NCAA would be around five billion dollars. Arkansas' athletic department in 2008 brought in just over sixty-six million dollars (ESPN). The amount each sport brought in is skewed harshly toward football because that is the most lucrative sport.
The NCAA and multiple other organizations are extremely against changing the current collegiate model and for good reason. For the past 75 years or so it has helped many student athletes obtain degrees and higher levels of education in which some may not have gotten without their athletic ability. The NCAA prides itself on 99% of "student-athletes will go pro in something other than sports." The collegiate model has with stood for a while now and changingit could mean a change to recruitment and many other fractions of the system.
The effects on the market of recruiting players by paying them through there selected school, would destroy recruitment and being able to have somewhat of a level playing field. If schools directly began to pay their players, competition would be between the top five to ten schools because their budgets would dominate other schools like Gonzaga. The same teams every year would get the top recruiting classes and it would only get worse. Those schools would win at a higher rate than any of the others as well as increase their revenue stream year by year, while smaller schools' athletic programs would dissipate.
If the NCAA were to pay players, who determines who will get paid and how much? By just giving a flat rate to all collegiate athletes would not be extremely feasible or fair. Why should the lacrosse team receive the same amount of stipend as the basketball team when the revenue brought in isn't represented evenly? On the other hand, how do you determine to give one department more money? This would just induce the notion that basketball and football are more important than lacrosse or your research department. In the end, it comes down to capitalism. Capitalism isn't fair and nor would the distribution of funds to student-athletes. That is the biggest reason a change in compensation hasn't been made already.
Before around 1970, Olympic athletes were required by rule to be amateurs. Requiring your world's best athletes to somehow live off nothing and still strive for a gold in which they will get no income for is heinous. By the end of the 80's, allowing pro athletes into the Olympics was the progressive and increasingly popular move. By the time the Dream Team arrived and no one could have imagined an Olympics without them. Is college athletics that much buried in the past? The NCAA's excuse is that it wants to preserve the "time-honored tradition of amateurism in college sports (Ferrantella, 2014)." So how do you want to start compensating those who bring revenue to the table, without breaking down the whole model? Sponsors. Is it really that bad Johnny "Football" Manziel could get a thousand dollars for his jersey or a clothing company wants to give Dashaun Watson fifty thousand dollars for a television ad? This is the solution. This isn't money the NCAA is getting or the players. Its dead money, or money left on the table. Allowing players to market themselves and make a little cash may not be fair to every collegiate athlete because some are going to win in the market while other won't, but that's life.
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