Why can’t college athletes gain the same rights as Olympians?

NCAA officials continue to mock the idea of fairness

The TV companies pays billion$ to the NCAA and colleges. The shoe businesses pays million$. The video game firms, million$.

The jersey makers and marketers, ticket sellers, venues, hotels, restaurants, realtors, government, and others all have their stakes in what is supposed to be an amateur enterprise.

Then Wednesday happens. A shoe forced on a kid who is forced to play for little more than room and board explodes in a game between supposed amateurs in which ticket prices reach $10,000. The kid goes down, hurt, his dreams of an appropriate payday off in the distance.

The shoe company scrambles, claims it was just an anomaly. The injury appears to not be as bad as feared. “All is fine,” claim many, who benefit off this system.

Meanwhile, Zion Williamson, the consensus top pick in the 2019 NBA draft, still hasn’t gotten paid. Everyone else has.

In a 2018 meeting of a commission on collegiate athletics, Kylia Carter — the mother of former Duke player Wendell Carter — compared the billions of dollars that universities amass in TV contract and shoe money and more, to how players essentially get room and board. It was like modern-day slavery, she said.

“The talent is being purchased, but the talented are not receiving any of the benefit,” said Carter, whose son was chosen in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Kevin Shay

Former players like Isiah Thomas and Chris Webber have launched similar charges. A commission chaired by Condoleezza Rice — born out of an FBI corruption investigation — stopped short of calling for players to share in the billions of dollars by being able to do what Olympic athletes can, namely gain endorsements.

When college football and basketball players market that swoosh symbol on their uniforms or those shoes that can malfunction, who do you think gets the money from Nike? Not those players.

The multi-billion dollar television contracts with ESPN and other stations are a big part of the reason for this situation, which is unique to football and basketball. Baseball and hockey have their own professional minor leagues, which might one day be part of the solution to the college football and basketball money mess. The NBA is heading in that direction with its G League.

The other part of the solution would be to spread the money around more than just among a relatively few administrators and coaches — not just to players but to faculty and students. More scholarships and grants available to all students would be welcome.

You don’t have to pay players directly. Just let them do what Olympic athletes can do — hire an agent, score endorsements, get paid for speaking appearances, books, tickets, autographs, jerseys, etc. Treat them with some dignity, not as pieces of property and cash cows to market the university. It’s the height of hypocrisy for the NCAA to outlaw a player making a few bucks selling a ticket when those officials make millions off said players.

The idea of using the Olympic model for college sports has been discussed for years. Even NCAA President Mark Emmert has said he is open to it, though many believe that was just hollow talk. He’s also said that university officials riding on the gravy train won’t support it, which is closer to the truth.

Why has the cost of college risen something like eight times faster than average earnings, especially when big colleges get all this extra money from TV, shoes, video game sales, tournaments, bowl games , etc.?

Look at Emmert himself for a big reason. His salary was $2.4 million in 2016, up about $500,000 from the previous year. Numerous officials under him also make out like bandits. Former NCAA chief operating officer Jim Isch took in a whopping $2.7 million in 2014. A lot of that was for retirement pay, which is another key reason for college costs rising. If you look at any budget, salaries and retirement compensation are by far the biggest items. Factor in all the employees’ pensions, and you begin to get an idea of where money is going.

Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany qualified for bonus payments of some $20 million on top of his annual salary of $3 million or so. Pac 12 head honcho Larry Scott raked in almost $5 million in 2016, about $600,000 more than in 2015. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby amassed more than $3 million in 2016. The late SEC leader Mike Slive took in $4.3 million in 2015, while current Commissioner Greg Sankey “only” made about half that in 2016.

Then there are the coaches. Thirteen college football and four basketball coaches made at least $5 million in 2018, led by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Alabama’s Saban at $9.0 million and $8.3 million, respectively. Some 82 football and 66 basketball coaches made at least $1 million. Some assistant coaches and vice administrators also rake in more than $1 million.

Don’t forget college presidents and other administrators. Kenneth Starr — the same guy who investigated Clinton’s White House affair before overseeing Baylor — was the highest paid in that category with $4.9 million in 2016. James Ramsey, former president of the University of Louisville, amassed the most among public universities at $4.3 million, even as he presided over the “Strippergate” scandal.

Some 61 private college presidents and 12 public ones made over $1 million in 2016. That’s up from nine private and one public earning over a million just seven years earlier. The number of high-paid coaches is also rising, just not as fast. For example, there were 56 football coaches pulling in more than $1 million in 2009, compared with 82 last year.

And officials say they can’t share the proceeds of jersey sales and endorsements with players?

The NCAA believes it has to do more to “clean up” college athletics in the wake of “Strippergate” and a wider FBI investigation.

As part of that purge, Louisville’s 2013 national championship was vacated because some parties involving strippers were organized to help recruit players. Former player and employee Andre McGee reportedly organized the parties between 2010 and 2014, according to a book by a reputed escort. None of those recruits attending said parties ended up enrolling at Louisville, according to reports.

But still, Emmert — no stranger to ignoring various scandals as an administrator at Connecticut and other colleges — pushed for punishing Louisville players and fans who were not involved. The Cardinals became the NCAA’s latest scapegoat after decades of minimizing how universities use sex and other favors to recruit athletes. The practice as an institution goes back at least as far as the 1960s, when Alabama legendary coach Bear Bryant reportedly used a group called “Bear’s Angels” to give recruits tours and more. Did the NCAA ever sanction Bryant for such practices? Are you kidding?

There were other allegations against Louisville, such as payments of a reported $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen last year. Bowen, who obviously also didn’t help the Cardinals to their 2013 title, soon transferred to South Carolina. Head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were eventually fired, as was Ramsey.

I’m not saying Louisville should not be punished for this situation. But vacating a title that was already won with players not involved in the situation is silly. It’d be better to reduce scholarships and force institutional changes, even make the program hire a female head coach, which of course, did not happen. And do more to catch all offenders, not just some scapegoats.

The wider FBI investigation reportedly included Alabama, Arizona, Duke, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan State, USC, and Kansas. Former NBA agent Andy Miller allegedly paid players and provided entertainment and travel expenses.

Some Adidas officials were implicated, and more trials are slated this year. But many doubt any substantial changes will result.

For his part, Emmert acted like he was shocked. “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert said in a statement. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules.”

Hello? You were in charge of this hen house, Emmert. You are a big part of the problem. You need to resign — which of course, hasn’t happened.

Emmert’s history suggests he should be among the last people to lecture anyone about abiding by NCAA rules. A few months after Emmert became NCAA president, he received a long letter about Michigan State athletes allegedly sexually assaulting women from Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. She said one player even admitted to raping a woman but was not charged or disciplined, and that 37 reports of sexual assault by MSU athletes had been reported in the previous two years. Redmond even met in person with Emmert to discuss the charges. That and the Larry Nassar scandal escalated to result in Michigan State’s president resigning.

With all that going on, is it any wonder that the calls continue for players who can go directly to pros be allowed to do so? College sports may not be slavery since participants have a choice — basketball players can go to Europe or China for a year to make some cash if they don’t like college. Football players, who are forced to remain in college for three years before qualifying for the NFL draft, have fewer choices. Baseball and hockey players have professional minor leagues, with the top prospects usually earning nice-sized bonuses out of high school.

It’s clear more radical changes need to occur to fix college basketball and football. Adopting the Olympic model for college athletes would go a long way towards alleviating the problems.

Written by

Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG. Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store