A 70-foot slide. Two bowling lanes with video scoring. An outdoor basketball court and putting green. A barber shop, shoe-shine area, and a nap room. No, this isn’t a list of amenities of a luxury Caribbean cruise ship. Rather it’s a list of amenities included in Clemson University’s newly-renovated $55 million football complex. Clemson football generated 45.9 million dollars in revenue last year alone. Its coach, Dabo Swinney, pocketed approximately $6 million in the same year.
He isn’t the only handsomely-compensated college coach in the nation.
In fact, in 40 of 50 states, the highest paid public official is the head coach of either the state university’s basketball or football team. Those on the field, throwing, tackling, kicking, and running? Those often risking their physical and mental health in the name of winning for their universities? They earn zero.
You might be thinking: What about the thousands of dollars athletes “earn” from being granted full ride scholarships to college. And, yes, this is a valid counterargument, besides the fact that it fails to account for the reality of the lives of college athletes.
Historically, the NCAA has stood in blind support of its model of amateurism, that is – the model it has long adopted to ensure college athletes sacrifice their rights to employment and fair compensation. Essentially, the NCAA, a corporation currently earning upwards of $11 billion in annual revenue, insists that student-athletes are not employees.
This same model has rendered college athletes essentially pawns of their respective university – pawns of an institution. The best performers bring fame and recognition to not only the athletic program they represent, but also the university they attend as a whole.
As college athletics have grown more and more in tandem with commercialization, this labor extraction system has become inseparable from evil. The coaches coach, get paid millions of dollars. The athletic directors direct, get paid well into the six figures. University branding gains worldwide recognition attention. And, those on the courts, on the fields, proxies for these higher-ups, have their tuition covered. It is mere ignorance to suggest that a college scholarship – which, on average, is worth around $25,000 a year, is commensurate with the value these star collegiate athletes bring to their institutions and the NCAA.
The rationalization of the current model falls short when one considers the 43 hours an average college football player spends playing in an average school week. Take into account, also, the multi-faceted approach the NCAA has for extracting athlete’s economic potential. In televising the performance of these so-called students on national television, the non-profit organization, the NCAA, earns nearly a billion dollars annually.
This debate over the amateurism model has gained special momentum recently, namely after the release of a wiretap that suggested Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller had mentioned the possibility of paying star prospect Deandre Ayton $100,000 to join his team. And these kinds of recruiting scandals have become commonplace over the past few decades. A few years ago, Louisville University basketball staff hired strippers to lure in the nation’s best high school basketball players. Two decades ago, Southern Methodist University was caught paying its football players, giving the conservation around the NCAA’s treatment of its athletes a much-needed injection of momentum and urgency.
Schools have shown, time and time again, an egregious willingness to pursue extreme measures to lure top recruits. It is as if, they might understand, the obvious: the better their teams perform on the court or field, the more money they will make.
For every stakeholder except for the athlete, it’s a performance-driven business.
These countless recruiting scandals that stem from coaches’ and athletic departments’ violations of the NCAA’s strict set of rules is nothing more than a tangible product of the NCAA’s ignorant, outdated system – a system that has led to its fair share of adverse outcomes.
Outcomes, like the one-and-done phenomenon in college basketball, in which many of the country’s best players elect to abandon their education – to become fairly compensated for their market value.
Can anyone blame them?
It seems the on-campus barber shops and bowling alleys are not enough to make college athletes ignore their status as subjugates under the dominion of a corrupt, greedy system.
In recent years, star players, current and former, have come forward to voice their own reservations. Outspoken NFL player Richard Sherman, a Stanford graduate, said, “You’re not on scholarship for school and it sounds crazy when a student-athlete says that, but those are the things coaches tell them every day: ‘You’re not on scholarship for school.’”
Sherman’s current teammate, Michael Bennett, shared similar sentiment, saying “[The NCAA] says, ‘We gave you a free degree.’ That’s like owning a restaurant and telling an employee, ‘I’ll give you a free burger.”
With March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament that generates billions of dollars in revenue, underway, it is time we take a hard look at the ways of the NCAA.
The only way to clean up the mess that is college athletics is to upend the obsolete amateur model, grant athletes the employment status they deserve, and thus be bound to pay all stakeholders their fair market value.
That is not to say that the educational component of the college athlete experience should be dismissed as unimportant.
It’s the opposite.
Fair payment naysayers will pose the logistical questions. Fair payment advocates like myself will pose the moral ones and demand them be answered by the corrupted corporation that is the NCAA.