by Dr. Boyce Watkins
In case you’re not aware, the NCAA is big, really big. This professional sports league that disguises itself as being amateur is rolling in money and profitability. Much of this excess is driven by the fact that their competitors, the NFL, NBA and Major League baseball, have one line item in their budgets that the NCAA does not have: The cost of compensating their players.
For the first time ever, ad revenue from March Madness has crossed the $1 billion dollar mark. According to Kantar Media, no other professional sports league has surpassed this number for post-season ad revenue. The NFL took in in a “measly” $976 million and the NBA was even more embarrassing at $537 million. Oh, Major League Baseball was barely worth mentioning, at $354 million. These numbers don’t include the hundreds of millions being brought in from t-shirts, tickets, popcorn and everything else they sell us during this wonderful time of the year. The bottom line is that they are rolling in so much money that if the NCAA were a hip-hop label, it would be called the “Young Money Monopoly.”
Now considering that the league with the lowest post-season revenue has players making as much as $30 million dollars per year, you can only imagine how much the mother of a college athlete might benefit if her child were able to negotiate his fair market value.
Even more interesting is the way that the NCAA has played with our heads. They market their improved graduation rates as if that’s fair compensation to a player whose siblings are still living in the projects. I’m sure that a player’s hungry relatives will be glad to hear that a $3 million dollar salary has been traded in for a nice degree in General Studies that could get the player an assistant manager’s job at Applebee’s. All the the while, the coaches (most of whom are white) fly on private jets, build multi-million dollar summer homes and buy expensive cars for their 16-year old daughters, all on the back of fresh recruits that they picked up from various “hoods” across the country.
When people ask me if I believe that college athletes should be paid, I simply respond to their question with another question: Why SHOULDN’T they be paid? You expect to be paid when you work and so do I. When a child actor plays a leading role in a $100 million dollar blockbuster film, her family expects to see big checks coming in the mail. Why do we have a different set of rules for college athletes?
When someone approaches me about the “absurdity” of athletes being paid, I then say that perhaps rather than paying them, we can simply give them the same negotiation and labor rights afforded to nearly every other employee in America. When someone works that hard to control what you do and how you do it, it’s typically because they are screwing you. Yes, I said it: College athletes and their families are being screwed like $2 prostitutes.
As a Finance Professor, educator and a black man, I will just say this: This system is financially corrupt. No one turns on an NCAA tournament game to see the coach, they only want to see the players. If that’s the case, then why does the coach walk home with a seven figure salary while the star player’s mother is struggling to pay her bills? Would the coach accept a scholarship in exchange for a $3 – 4 million dollar salary? I think not.
Secondly, I can say that after teaching for 20 years on college campuses with big time athletics programs, the schedule of a professional athlete often keeps players away from fully pursuing their academic responsibilities. I’ll never forget the time I tutored a student who told me that his coaches asked him to change his major to find one that was more suitable for his football schedule. The coaches looked at me like a lunatic for suggesting that perhaps he was in college to study and not just play football.
Third, as a black man, I can say that this is the second -most racially-exploitative system in America behind the Prison Industrial Complex. In both cases, a set of illogical laws have been put in place to extract billions of dollars in labor from a group of people without giving them fair compensation. A massive amount of wealth is taken from the African American community every single year, as our greatest athletes run and jump for all-white crowds and corporate sponsors who get rich from our extraordinary talent.
The wonderfully manipulative mind game that the NCAA plays on us is one that somehow convinces us that it should be illegal for an athlete to receive money for his labor. All the while, they find nothing wrong with a coach with no academic responsibility going onto a campus and extracting millions of dollars that could be used for student scholarships or paying the individuals actually doing the work. That’s one hell of a hustle, and it’s been working for decades.
What’s the solution to this problem? Athletes and their families have to stand up. Former athletes who’ve been manipulated by this system need to make their voices heard, and all Americans who believe in fairness and labor rights should support athletes in their quest to provide for their families. If players refuse to show up and play, then there is no game. If there is no game, there is no money. Shutting down the system where it stands would get the NCAA’s attention and force them to recognize the obvious.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a faculty affiliate at the College Sport Research Institute at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is also the founder of ALARM: The Athlete Liberation Academic Reform Movement. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. Please join Dr. Watkins and Min. Louis Farrakhan for a summit on “Wealth, Education, Family and Community: A New Paradigm for Black America” to be held in Chicago on March 30. You can RSVP by clicking here.