Editorial: NCAA March Madness athletes must be properly compensated

NCAA basketball scoring is at a record low, attendance has been dwindling the last seven seasons and television ratings aren’t at the level of last year.

NCAA Vice-President Dan Gavitt told the Associated Press on March 11 that he had “healthy concerns” regarding the “struggling” and “dire state” of the game.

Yet, the upcoming NCAA March Madness Tournament is expected to rake in a colossal $1 billion in ad revenue this month, if not more. Not bad for a “struggling” sport.

How is the NCAA able to make that much in revenue despite their “woes?” The athletes — or what the NCAA likes to call them, “amateurs.”

March Madness is the second most popular sports showcase for advertisers in America, trailing only the mammoth NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, per Business Insider. March Madness currently operates on a $10.8 billion deal between the NCAA and CBS and Turner Sports, which runs from 2011 to 2024. That’s $10.8 billion for three weekends of college basketball on TV per year. But make no mistake, no company would advertise during March Madness this year if it wasn’t for dynamic and exciting play from college stars such as Duke University big man Jahlil Okafor or Ohio State University’s point guard DeAngelo Russell.

More than 800 NCAA Division I basketball athletes took part in last year’s tournament, which generated $1.15 billion in ad revenue. The average salary of NCAA Division I basketball head coaches who participated in last year’s NCAA Tournament was roughly $1 million in 2014, as per USA Today. Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski’s salary topped the list at a whopping $9.6 million — the highest in all college sports — while Wofford University’s Mike Young made $171,244 in 2014.

But that’s still $171,244 more than what every single NCAA athlete makes — in any sport. Combined.

I’m not saying NCAA coaches don’t deserve their pay. Kryzewski is worth every penny. But he wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the student athletes on his roster.

I understand the argument against paying student athletes. There are legal ramifications of turning student athletes into “employees,” such as entitlement to medical benefits, plus it hinders the competitive balance in regards to recruitment. There’s also the argument from every other university student saying, “these kids got free education,” or “I worked my way through college.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert has repeatedly said NCAA athletes aren’t employees — they’re students, and they’re fully compensated with a full-ride scholarship and education.

The difference is that student who was working their way through school wasn’t generating millions of dollars for their school, and billions of dollars for the NCAA. Free education isn’t adequate compensation. The NCAA is stripping players of their commercial rights, using it to their own benefit and turning it into an enterprise for market and television revenue. Exploitation at its finest.

Education as payment isn’t sufficient, especially when players are forced to put more time into shooting three-pointers than studying for algebra. Stop practicing that three-pointer and you’re cut from the team — and your scholarship.

The best college basketball players in America are worth much more than tuition, and it’s time they benefit from it.

After all, as ESPN analyst Mike Wilbon said in a 2011 ESPN.com article, “The student-musician is no less a college student because he struck a lucrative deal. Neither is the student-journalist who spends his nights writing freelance stories and picking up as much money along the way as he can.”

Last August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that universities should be able to “give athletes a limited share of the revenues generated from use of their names, images and likeness in addition to a full grant-in-aid.” Wilken ruled that universities be allowed to create trust funds capped at no less than $5,000, which are derived from a limited share of licensing revenue for football and basketball college athletes. The trust funds would be collected when the athletes leave the university. Plus, the athletes would still be eligible for renewal of their full-ride athletic scholarships in addition to the trust fund.

Of course, the NCAA appealed Wilken’s decision on Tuesday and requested a California appeals court overturn the decision, citing an “avocation will become a profession and that athletics will become untethered from the academic experience.”

But even if the NCAA’s appeal falls through, there is no quantifiable amount that ensures NCAA athletes get compensated for what they’re worth. And if there is a quantifiable amount, it’s probably very rich — meaning that the athletes will never get equity.

That’s what the real struggle in the NCAA is.


  1. Yeah dude, John Oliver REALLY broke the lid off of what college sports fans have been talking about for the better part of the last decade

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