By Ken Reed

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most famous college athletes ever. Jabbar, Lew Alcindor at the time, led UCLA to multiple national basketball championships. Moreover, he helped make millions for the NCAA, UCLA, broadcasters, administrators, and others. Meanwhile, Jabbar’s income opportunities were tightly restricted thanks to the NCAA’s amateurism rules.

“We were the best team in the country, yet I was too broke to go out and celebrate,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar in a recent piece for Jacobin. “The more privileged students on academic scholarships were allowed to make money on the side, just not the athletes.

“And unlike those with academic scholarships, if we were injured and couldn’t play anymore, we lost our scholarships but still had medical bills to worry about. We were only as valuable as our ability to tote that ball and lift that score.”

As Abdul-Jabbar ably points out in this article, the situation today’s big-time college athletes face is much worse than when he played college basketball.

“Life for student-athletes is no longer the quaint Americana fantasy of the homecoming bonfire and a celebration at the malt shop,” says Jabbar.

“It’s big business in which everyone is making money — everyone except the eighteen to twenty-one-year-old kids who every game risk permanent career-ending injuries. … [T]he NCAA, television broadcasters, and the colleges and universities are making a lot more money.

The NCAA rakes in nearly $1 billion annually from its March Madness contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.

  • The NCAA president made $1.7 million in 2012.
  • The ten highest paid coaches in this year’s March Madness earn between $2,627,806 and $9,682,032.

“Management argues that student-athletes receive academic scholarships and special training worth about $125,000. While that seems like generous compensation, it comes with some serious restrictions:

  • College athletes on scholarship are not allowed to earn money beyond the scholarship. Yet students on academic scholarships are allowed to earn extra money.
  • The NCAA allows the scholarship money to be applied only toward tuition, room and board, and required books. On average, this is about $3,200 short of what the student need.
  • Academic scholarships provide for school supplies, transportation, and entertainment. Athletic scholarships do not.
  • Athletic scholarships can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore. He or she risks this possibility every game.
  • The injustice worsens when we realize that the millionaire coaches are allowed to go out and earn extra money outside their contracts. Many do, acquiring hundreds of thousands of dollars a year beyond their already enormous salaries.”

How can this situation be fair? Abdul-Jabbar argues strongly and persuasively that it’s not.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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