The National Labor Relations Board decided near the end of March to let college football players at Northwestern University unionize. Usually I am not in favor of unions, but clearly something must be done to change the way college athletes get compensated for their services.
Today, thousands of college athletes throughout the country are exploited by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and by their colleges and universities. Despite bringing in millions of dollars for their school and the NCAA, college athletes receive almost nothing in return.
Sure, some college athletes get scholarships, but the ones that do don’t even receive enough compensation to cover the cost of attending school. Some of the college athletes we are talking about here can’t even afford to buy their own jerseys. They walk around campus in sweatpants and flip-flops and eat ramen noodle soap for dinner because they can’t afford anything better.
If you are one of the talented athletes who do receive a full-ride scholarship, you only receive three meals a day in the cafeteria. As a hard-working athlete, three meals a day in the cafeteria are not enough food, but anything outside of the cafeteria must be purchased out of pocket.
Many of these college athletes are black and come from poverty-stricken communities. Last year, the National College Players Association released a report called “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports” that concluded that 86% of college athletes live below the poverty line.
The fact that Texas football players are valued at $513,922 or that Duke basketball players are worth $1,025,656 and they may be living below the poverty line is downright outrageous. The situation in which many of these players find themselves is worse than indentured servitude — they are owned by the NCAA and the universities they attend.
Executives at the NCAA make about $1 million per year off college sports, despite the NCAA’s status as a “nonprofit” organization. In 2010, the NCAA agreed to a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS. Guess how much money the players who draw the large viewership and high ratings for CBS make off this deal? That’s right, a whopping zero dollars.
If this wasn’t bad enough, college basketball head coaches earn anywhere from $100,000 to over $8 million per year off the success of their athletes. But if a player holds an autograph signing event drawing in thousands of dollars, he cannot take a single dime of the profits. The NCAA prohibits this kind of activity because college athletes don’t own their own name — the NCAA does.
The real reason the NCAA wants to keep college athletes as amateurs is its own self-interest — more money for the players means less money for the NCAA.
And what about all the injuries college athletes experience? Sure, they get medical coverage if they make the team, but many of these athletes experience season-ending injuries or suffer concussions that have long-term consequences after they graduate (or certainly after their playing eligibility is used up). College athletes must be provided medical care whether they make the team or not. Injuries sustained during the season must be taken care for as long as they remain an issue. Refusing to take care of the basic medical needs of college players should not be tolerated.
Opponents who argue that college athletes shouldn’t get paid because they are students, not professionals, either live in the past or are simply ill-informed. These “students” don’t go to school for the education, they go to school for the sport. Like it or not, they are athletes first, and students second.
Students who play college sports at an elite level work much more than a typical 40-hour work week. Along with a full schedule of classes, these players must spent hours in the gym, attend long practices, and travel all over the country to play the sport they love. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the NCAA, college football players spend an average of 43.3 hours on their sport and an average of 38 hours on academics. These kids’ 81-hour work week is far more challenging than many full-time jobs.
The NCAA, colleges and universities have taken advantage of college athletes for far too long and their excuses have run dry. The rules of the game must change. College athletes deserve to be treated fairly and given a just compensation for the services they provide. The status quo is unacceptable.
• Armstrong Williams is the owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and editor-in-chief of American CurrentSee magazine.