March Money Madness

The NCAA March Madness basketball tournament is exactly like a produced television show: it has more seasons than The Simpsons, and it captivates millions of people from avid basketball fans to people hoping to create the perfect bracket. However, in the wake of a current FBI investigation regarding corruption and bribery during the recruiting processes for NCAA basketball teams, a debate has arisen that you wouldn’t hear at a TV set or director’s studio. Many onlookers are questioning why student athletes are not paid in general. Some argue that compensation may compromise the game because athletes will no longer be playing for the love of the game, but others consider payment to be deserved and potentially reducing said corruption. Should the National Collegiate Athletic Association pay its student athletes?

Currently, one reason the NCAA justifies its stance against compensating its athletes is by pointing out other benefits. For instance, many college athletes are receiving valuable education at a heavy discount which could serve as a solid foundation for another career if they can not reach the professional level. Also, this sports platform also allows them to receive a level of exposure that could lead to a major life-changing professional sports contract, which already seems like compensation. Some critics may point to how the NCAA garnered $989 million as recently as the 2014 fiscal year and has money to redistribute. However, it should be noted that little money is retained by the association; 96% of revenue “is either returned directly to member conferences and institutions or used to support championships and programs that benefit student-athletes.”

However, the sheer size of revenue that student players bring to colleges through ticket and jersey sales still seems to highlight the unfairness of the system. The National College Players Association and Drexel University created a study revealing that while the average full athletic scholarship is worth approximately $23,204 per year, the average annual fair market value of big time college football and men’s basketball players to be $137,357 and $289,031 respectively. Not only that, but these athletes risk their futures for entertainment (as exemplified by Kevin Ware’s gruesome injury during an NCAA basketball game in which he fractured his leg so badly that the bone pushed inches through the skin). From a business standpoint, it could be seen that this association is exploiting the players’ bodies for no pay.

Personally, I propose that the NCAA allows its student athletes to be compensated by the Olympic model, meaning that they can sign endorsement deals and receive payment from sponsors for wearing branded shoes and other gear. This would still leave a relatively even playing field between all of the schools who look to attract athletes because richer schools would otherwise have an unfair advantage in the recruiting process. At the same time, by having a flow of income, these student athletes now have the chance to provide financial support to their families back home. This is especially applicable to the many players who come from lower-class families who are from tough urban areas.