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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon