The Final Four and national championship game will happen over the course of the next several days. If you have spent any time watching any of the games, you have seen spattering of commercials about how good the NCAA is for student athletes.
When it comes to these student-athletes particularly in the revenue generating sports of football and basketball, the actions and the words of the NCAA are not in harmony. The NCAA says it was founded to protect the student-athlete, but the more appropriate phrase may be to exploit them. The reality is that the NCAA is hypocrisy at its finest, using athletes as a means to make money while providing no compensation and limiting their choices for achieving success.
The easy angle on this would be to focus on the compensation of players in the revenue- generating sports. In football, schools are raking in millions in profits. In 2011-2012, the University of Texas football program had a profit of $77.9 million to lead the nation, followed by Michigan with a profit of $61.6 million. When it comes to basketball, the NCAA isn’t doing too shabby either. They are in the middle of a $10.8 billion media agreement with CBS and the 2012 tournament generated more than $1 billion in advertising revenue.
What’s that you say? The players are getting a free education, room and board, and experiences not available to traditional students ... isn’t that enough? Even if you ignore the fact that athletic scholarships are only one year commitments and have to be renewed at the mercy of the coach, the answer is: No the scholarship is not enough. In March, Drexel University and the National College Players Association released a study showing just how inadequate that scholarship really is. A full scholarship during the 2011-2012 school year left athletes with a scholarship shortfall (out-of-pocket cost) of $3,285. As the study outlines, from the 2011 and 2015 time period, football and basketball student-athletes will miss out on $6 billion because of the NCAA’s prohibition of a fair market.
A football player at the University of Texas (the school with almost $80 million in profits) during this same 2011-2015 period is set to lose out on $2.2 million in revenue, accrue a scholarship shortfall of over $14,000, and will live below the poverty line by $784 per year. During that same period, a men’s basketball player at the University of Louisville is set to lose out on $6.5 million in revenue, accrue a scholarship shortfall of over $17,000, and will live below the poverty line by $3,730 per year. This is the same Louisville basketball program who attempted to exploit a gruesome injury by one of its players last weekend.
This exploitation of athletes extends beyond inadequate scholarships and missing shares of revenue. It is also evident in the differential treatment of players and coaches when it comes to commitments. When a coach wants to leave for a better opportunity to win or make more money they can leave with no penalty. There might be financial consequences (i.e. buyouts), but the new employer of the coach could also pick up that tab. However, when a player wants to transfer to get more playing time or have a better chance of winning, they face penalties by the NCAA. They have to sit out a year unless they transfer to a lower level, and they could face restrictions on where they can play.
When it comes to the revenue generating sports of football and basketball, the idea of the NCAA’s commitment to student athletes is a farce. The inadequacies of the scholarships and the lack of revenue sharing put many student-athletes who already may come from poverty to continue living below the poverty line. The differential treatment of coaches and players when it comes to moving to a better opportunity unfairly penalizes the student-athlete. All this leads to the conclusion that the NCAA is hypocrisy at its finest using athletes as a means to make money while providing no compensation and limiting their choices for achieving success while claiming to being committed to their strive for excellence.