Pay Up, Colleges, and Stop Exploiting Your ‘Student-Athletes’

Of course college athletes are exploited. The question is, 'What do we do about it?'

Gary Harris of the Michigan State Spartans knocks the ball away from Malcolm Brogdon of the Virginia Cavaliers during a regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Recently, Bill Maher tweeted that “March Madness really is a stirring reminder of what America was founded on—making tons of money off the labor of unpaid black people.”

Although there are some parallels, college athletes do receive scholarships and are not forced to play. A more accurate comparison would be when a company builds a factory in an economically underdeveloped country, paying its workers pennies but making millions while claiming to be doing them a favor by providing a tremendous opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Let’s look at the facts: The NCAA is a $6 billion-a-year industry. Yes, that’s billion with a “B.” And as hall-of-famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pointed out on CNN last week, in 2013, CBS and TBS split $1 billion just off March Madness alone. 

The average annual pay for coaches in this year’s NCAA tournament field is $1.47 million. That’s based on 62 of 68 schools in the field for which USA Today was able to obtain compensation figures.

Yet the NCAA continues to oppose paying college athletes, and in polls, most people share that opinion—but it’s hypocritical.

The popularity of the NCAA bowl games and March Madness continues to skyrocket, and so do the astronomical television deals and overall profits that come with that exponential growth. But players don’t share in the spoils, and the more money universities make, the more tightfisted they become.

But now, in the wake of a National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern University’s football players are, in fact, employees of the university, student-athletes can form a union, and this could change the entire NCAA dynamic as we know it.

There are those, however, who are still completely against the thought of college players not only unionizing, but also being compensated in any form beyond their scholarships.

Some are naive enough to believe that the reason the NCAA doesn’t want to pay college athletes is because they are 100 percent committed to the value placed on educational and intellectual enlightenment. Some are actually convinced that the very fiber of our institutions of higher learning would be compromised and the focus of scholastic achievement would quickly dissipate.

Many do not realize, though, that if you have a career-ending injury, you’re no longer of any use to the university and can be sold up the river, or, in modern terms, lose your scholarship. I know this first-hand because it almost happened to my wife (then girlfriend), Nichole Oliver Thomas, who, like me, played basketball for Syracuse University.