Tag Archives: NCAA

The NCAA has a heart of gold—or at least tries to buy one with the $16+ billion they receive in television rights contracts for March Madness and the College Football Playoff. But were the (young, disproportionately black) athletes to receive a more equitable share from the (old, disproportionately white) institution, wouldn’t things only get worse? How could dumb jocks who have never worked a real job match the integrity of college athletics’ leaders like Jim Boeheim of Syracuse or the late Joe Paterno of Penn State?

It’s old news that the NCAA is, by definition, a cartel: a group formed to restrict wages by unilaterally dictating scholarship limits, thereby shriveling the economic freedom of their laborers. Athletic scholarships, by definition, pay athletes in-kind services and benefits (athletic training, room, board, education optional) in exchange for playing a varsity sport. Non-athletes don’t get athletic scholarships; it’s that simple. The pay-for-play debate is not whether athletes should be paid—they already are—but whether the NCAA has any legal grounds to arbitrarily cap that pay.

The NCAA’s argument to this point is truly impressive: they get to decide what “payments” are, and they have decided that scholarships are not payments. How convenient! Imagine if anyone could say the same to the IRS: the health care and company car I receive from my employer are not payments, so you don’t get to tax them. The end!

Beyond the “no-it-isn’t!” defense (so sophisticated that Monty Python did a sketch on it 40+ years ago), the NCAA is so refreshing because in addition to bringing plantations back from the 19th century, they are brazenly paternalistic. Paying for a college athlete’s family to attend his/her sporting match was for years a violation of the NCAA’s fabled “amateurism”, an infraction sure to draw a penalty if noticed. Until the NCAA just decided one day that providing for athletes’ families is a noble calling perfectly aligned with “amateurism”, so long as the NCAA does the providing, rather than empowering the athletes to do so.

This is an organization that cannot open its mouth without bragging about the $2.7 billion they give in scholarships, either ignoring or forgetting that without exploiting the athletes in the first place, the NCAA would not have a single cent to give to anyone. NCAA sports take in over $11 billion annually on the backs of college athletes. Then while distributing less than 25% back to those same athletes, they preach the virtues of fair play. Leon Festinger would be proud.

In truly bizarre fashion, this paternalism only extends to the athletes the NCAA claims to educate. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to pursue non-academic opportunities and no one batted an eye. Natalie Portman starred in movies before attending college and could join the film club, skip class, and earn her worth in a free market. Yet (young, disproportionately black) athletes who may place sports above studying or dare to sell an autograph are naturally put in line by (old, disproportionately white) tyrants who claim to own them, or at least their name, image, and likeness. The heart of the plantation lives on.

The 2014-15 Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team

Kentucky Basketball

The 2015 NCAA Board of Governors

NCAA Board of Governors


Stop it, NCAA. Just @!$#ing stop it already. The only reason you exist is to rob and restrict the freedoms of schedule games and what-not for college athletes. And yes, “college athletes” is a perfectly appropriate term. “College” is an adjective describing a person that is a member of a college (see “college kid”, “college professor”, etc), and athlete is a noun indicating a human being that competes in an individual or team sport, so stop mangling the English language to pretend you think of college athletes as students first. You are embarrassing yourself.

Led by former player Kain Colter, members of Northwestern University’s football team have created and joined the first ever union for college athletes, the College Athletes Players Association, which has petitioned the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.1 It’s about time.

Specifics of the union’s demands, and how likely they are to receive them, are beyond the scope of my rage. By all means, Google the specifics yourself. With only a basic understanding of the picture, it is clear to see that college athletes are right to ask for some benefits of the enormous wealth that they themselves are ultimately responsible for providing.

But the NCAA is a non-profit, and makes it all possible.

Please. Colleges played sporting matches against one another before 1906. And in 2014, Michigan and Ohio would still find a way to play football against one another, even if the NCAA were not around. And there would still be thousands of people willing to buy tickets to such a game, and millions more excited to watch it on television. And do not confuse “non-profit” for “our employees do not make nor care about money”. Mark Emmert, current NCAA president, earned $1.7 million in 2011.2 Other upper executives also brought in salaries well into the high six figures.

But the athletes already receive room, board, and a college education.

Cool! Who else receives that? All college students everywhere (some opt out of the housing and/or meal plans). Most non-athlete college students pay for those goods and services, but many do not; there are non-athletic scholarships and grants. The thing is, at some schools, especially Division I sports powerhouses, athletes do not only receive value, but actually add value to the institution they play for. Non-athletes can do this too, by going on to win a Nobel prize, or becoming wealthy and donating millions back to their school, whatever, but let’s agree that, at least at some schools, on average an athlete adds far more value than a non-athlete. And far more than an athlete receives in return. For in return, athletes receive no additional benefits.

Wait, what about fame and exposure? That’s a benefit exclusive to athletes.

Oh yeah. College athletes can use their media and commercial value to reap rew–oh,  the NCAA is the exclusive owner of every aspect of every college athlete! Including their names! And their faces!

The Daily Show with Jon Stuart, Episode 4/11/2013, 1:25 into Joel Bauman clip

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Episode 4/11/2013, 1:25 into Joel Bauman clip

And their entire “athletics reputation”! Any potential benefits a player might receive due to being a college athlete are ALL owned by the NCAA.

Well… wow that’s messed up.


Okay, but is it really a big deal? How much money are we talking about?

The EA Sports NCAA Football video game, which has just been discontinued this season as a result of college athletes such as Ed O’Bannon sticking up for themselves, grossed around $200 million a year in sales.3 In 2011, CBS-Turner collectively bought the broadcast rights for every March Madness NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball championship tournament game through 2025 for 10.8 BILLION DOLLARS.

Haha. Did you know Aaron Sorkin is rumored to direct “Lean In”?

Actually, yes! But don’t call me unless Justin Timberlake gets involved. Or maybe just Andrew Garfield. Ah, hell with it, Facebook is still relevant enough to merit a watch. Speaking of good investments, that $10.8 billion spent by the CBS-Turner partnership already looks good, given that a 30 second commercial during a lowly first round game costs $100,000, with a single ad in the Final Four selling for $700,000 and one spot in the championship game fetching $1.45 million (that is, $1,450,000).4 ESPN bowed out to CBS-Turner for March Madness, but during this month’s Bowl Championship Series national championship football game between Auburn and Florida State, ESPN sold 30 second commercials for $1 million a pop.5 College athletes generate enormous amounts of wealth, billions of dollars every year, and receive none of it.

Alright! But how could a university pay its students to provide a service?

Do colleges routinely compensate students for working in labs or libraries?

They do, don’t they! It’s only college athletes who get screwed!

That’s right! In fact, it gets even better because with hours of practices and games every week, college athletes have even less time to balance work alongside school!

At least these guys will end up making millions in the pros anyway.

No, they will not. Only a select few will make it as professional athletes. There are 1,696 active NFL players on a given Sunday. Veterans retain most of them, and each year only a fraction of roster spots become available for rookies. There are roughly 14,375 college football players in the BCS, with a quarter (or so) of them graduating every season. As the NCAA loves to tout in their absurd “student first” commercials, almost all college athletes go pro in something other than sports. But that does not stop the NCAA for milking them for billions of dollars in network and endorsement deals, redistributed in six and seven-figure salaries to men and women no one is interested in watching on national television.

Gosh, what a bunch of hacks.

And then, in response to the unionization of some college athletes attempting to actually receive just some of the wealth they earn, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy, says this:

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.

Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.

What legally defines an employee will be argued a lot in the coming months and years, but come on. Anyone with enough of a brain to go to college at least on some level knows that college is NOT about getting an education. Rather, college is about improving one’s lifetime expected income, via getting an education, acquiring expertise valued in the job market, networking, etc, in order to have a successful career. The NCAA restricts college athletes from using their status (and even their own name!) to help them do precisely those things, which is ridiculous. And how dare Remy throw the word “voluntary” out there like it means something? Employer-employee contracts tend to be voluntary. Employees choose to apply to jobs, to work at them, and to leave them.

If the NCAA cared primarily about college education, they would not behave this way.

Exactly! The NCAA is just a bunch of greedy old farts raking it in from a bunch of young adults who by and large work much harder, and face much greater risks to their physical and mental health. Meanwhile, an antiquated convention dictates that in return, NCAA athletes get a college education of far less value than what they provide.

#@!%ing stop it, NCAA. Just stop it already, would you?


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