agree? I do
Pay Up, Colleges, and Stop Exploiting Your 'Student-Athletes'
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
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.
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
After her third knee surgery, the Syracuse specialist told her that
if she wanted to be able to walk without a cane and play with her kids
in the future, she had to stop playing basketball. She was devastated,
because as athletes, we are programmed to run through walls, ignore pain
and never quit. But after much convincing from the people who cared
about her—mostly her mother—Nichole made the right decision.
Her coaches weren’t pleased, however, and she actually had to get a lawyer and threaten to sue the school in order to keep her scholarship her senior year.
If their main concern was education, this wouldn't have happened. The
bottom line is that it's a business. When you play Division I sports,
you're not treated as a “student-athlete”—as colleges love to profess to
the world—you’re an athlete-student, and you're there for one reason
and one reason only. You can keep your grades up enough to remain
eligible, but then again, that's only so you can be able to play—and
earn more money for the university.
But naysayers will tell you things along the lines of "universities
are dedicated to every student-athlete's academic development" or that
"paying college athletes would devalue universities and discredit
student-athletes as scholars."
If you believe anything like that, though, I have some magic beans that you'd probably be interested in buying as well.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch—Martin Luther King Jr.'s
biographer—looked at the state of affairs in college sports and could
come to only one conclusion: "For all the outrage, the real scandal is
that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its
existence—‘amateurism’ and the ‘student-athlete’—are cynical hoaxes;
legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can
exploit the skills and fame of young athletes.”
Thus, the argument against paying college athletes is quickly exposed
as one of the most hypocritical, self-serving positions in modern
sports. Whether or not college athletes are actually being exploited
shouldn't even be a question. The only question is how we can rectify
Etan Thomas is an NBA veteran and the author of Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge. Follow him on Twitter.