By Ken Reed
Very few NCAA athletes understand and appreciate the economic power they possess as a collective group. Donald H. Yee, a sports lawyer whose firm represents Tom Brady among others, wrote an excellent piece for the Washington Post a couple days ago about how college athletes, especially minority athletes in the football and basketball programs at major universities, are being exploited by the NCAA and its member schools.
As Yee eloquently points out, big-time college football and men’s basketball players are responsible for generating billions of dollars. Yet, the compensation they receive is capped by the NCAA at tuition, room and board (and in some cases, a small full cost of attendance stipend). In terms of dollars paid for value created, no group of employees in the country is getting a worse deal than college football and basketball players in the Power Five conferences.
You don’t think so? Consider some of these numbers:
“The College Football Playoff will generate more than $7 billion from ESPN over a 12-year contract,” pointed out Yee. “Basketball’s March Madness will bring in nearly $11 billion from CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting over a 14-year TV and Web deal. Merchandising and licensing revenue reportedly exceeds $4 billion a year.” The college football championship game features Clemson from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Alabama from the Southeastern Confernce (SEC). Each conference will get $6 million for having a team selected for the four-team College Football Playoff.
The fact is, college sports revenue is skyrocketing in recent years. From 2008 to 2013, the average revenue of a big-time Division I program increased by 32 percent. During the same timeframe, median household income in America went down by 1.3 percent.
According to a study by the Drexel University Sports Management Department and the National College Players Association, football and men’s basketball players at top sports schools were denied at least $6.2 billion between 2011 and 2015 under NCAA rules that prohibit them from being paid. The fair market value of a football player at the University of Texas during the 2011-12 school year was $567,922 on an annual basis, according to Ellen Staurowsky, a professor at Drexel University. The calculation was based on an NFL-like shared revenue system. The value of a “full-ride” athletic scholarship at Texas was $21,090 a year at the time of her study. As such, the fair market value denied (the difference between the fair market value and the value of the scholarship) was $546, 832.
How can this economic injustice be changed? Well, the NCAA isn’t going to do it. They like keeping the cash for themselves. Coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban aren’t going to do it. They enjoy their huge salaries too much. (Saban makes more than $7 million per year.) The networks, like ESPN, certainly aren’t going to push for it.
The players are going to have to do it themselves. The problem is, the players don’t have a union or anyone else representing them, like the players in the NFL, NBA and MLB do. Creating a union will be a struggle, as Northwestern football players discovered. But formally or informally, the players need to unite for change, like Missouri’s football players did earlier this year by threatening to boycott all football activities over racial issues on Mizzou’s campus unless the school president, Tim Wolfe, was fired or resigned. The threat spooked TV network executives and others who didn’t want to deal with the economic ramifications of a scheduled football game being cancelled due to a player protest. As such, a ton of pressure came down on Wolfe to resign, which he did.
Whether you believe the Missouri outcome was just or not, the point is it shows how much power college athletes can wield when they come together and stand up for a cause.
Imagine how much positive change could result for college football and basketball players if Clemson’s and Alabama’s players had united around a “we’re not playing the championship game until we get some economic justice” platform?
As former University of California and NFL linebacker Scott Fujita told Yee:
“The current model will only be ‘broken’ for as long as the athletes themselves allow it to remain that way. There’s no governing body that’s going to fix it. It must be the players. And as more players realize the power they can wield, and once they can organize around the common purpose of the change they seek, that’s when things will begin to shift.”
And the shift will be dramatic.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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