NCAA’s Problem Going Forward

Photo Credit: NCAA

Photo Credit: NCAA

Emmanuel Mudiay, the nation’s top high school basketball prospect, withdrew his admission to play at SMU to pursue a professional contract overseas in Europe.  He missed out on a chance to play for coaching legend Larry Brown and play against defending national champion Connecticut next season.  Instead, he will actually EARN money, instead of a scholarship, and play against professional basketball players overseas.  This begs the question; should NCAA pay their collegiate athletes, especially those who bring the schools millions of dollars in revenues? Absolutely.

In June, Rashad McCants publicly came out to denounce the academic standards at North Carolina.  He claims tutors wrote his papers, professors inflated his grades, and he rarely went to class.   As long as he played well on the court, nothing else mattered, as McCants started for UNC’s national championship team in 2004-05.  However, he said that UNC should have ruled him ineligible for that championship season due to poor academic performance.  McCants made the Dean’s List despite not attending the classes he received an “A” grade.  Furthermore, he believes Head Coach Roy Williams knew about the entire roster’s fraudulent academic performance at the school, and the coach had no pressure to change due to the team’s on-court success.

Sure, some of these claims may prove erroneous, but this sets an alarming light on the state of UNC and the NCAA.  If schools provide scholarships to these “student-athletes”, they must hold them to a high enough academic standard to wear their uniform.  The schools cannot have this both ways.  Either they pay the athletes and disregard their academic performances or provide them with every resource imaginable to give them the best education possible.

Rashad McCants has called out Roy Williams for failure to hold UNC athletes to a higher academic standard (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Rashad McCants has called out Roy Williams for failure to hold UNC athletes to a higher academic standard (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

These “student-athletes” sacrifice their bodies on a daily basis to represent their schools and earn them national respect.  They sacrifice their social lives on the weekends to train with their respective teams and have to travel around the country to play for their school.  Furthermore, after accounting for practices, games, travel, preparation, and training sessions, they spend more than 40 hours per week dedicated to their teams.  By regularly playing at a high intensity, they undergo regular pain and soreness.  And the schools reward them by providing a “free” scholarship and spoonfeeding them good grades so they can make an impact on the sport they play?

With 24/7 media coverage and the rapid advancements in social media, fans place these 18-22 year-old college athletes under the microscope.  Networks now broadcast all of the major sports, including basketball, football, hockey, and baseball, in front of a national viewing audience.  Don’t these athletes feel pressured to perform at the highest level to not only benefit their personal brand but to help the school win games and bring in revenue?

Johnny Manziel has not even played a down in the NFL yet he has over one million Twitter followers and became arguably one of the most polarizing athletes in all of sports…..while in COLLEGE.  His financial compensation? Absolutely nothing until he got drafted.  The NCAA suspended him for half of the first game at the start of last season because he allegedly profited from autographs.  Yet, according to Texas A&M, Manziel’s Heisman winning moment generated the school $37 MILLION in media exposure alone.  And the NCAA and school had the guts to even attempt to suspend him?  What a bunch of hypocrites.

Manziel did a whole lot more for the school outside of that few weeks of Heisman campaign.  He sold millions of jerseys and school merchandise featuring his name, generated ticketed sales, and most importantly, brought national media exposure to College Station, Texas, and made the Aggies must-see television every time he took the field.  The school reportedly raised a record $800 million in donations from September 1, 2012 through the end of this past college football season.  And Manziel saw absolutely NONE of that money.

Johnny Manziel did not receive any financial rewards for his services to Texas A&M (Photo Credit: USATSI))

Johnny Manziel did not receive any financial rewards for his services to Texas A&M (Photo Credit: USATSI))

All 10 FBS conferences alone have lucrative TV contracts worth over $100 million total, and five major conferences – Big 10, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac 12 – each have contracts well in excess of $1 billion.  The conferences rake in millions and billions of dollars while the people who sacrifice their bodies and actually make the money for the schools get a little token of appreciation known as a scholarship.  While more than 25 head coaches in college football earn over $2.5 million annually, the student-athletes do not see a penny.

Yes, many regular people would kill to receive a free education and full scholarships like these student-athletes receive.  However, playing a sport and representing the school requires a full-time commitment and like McCants, schools shortcut the students’ education in favor of superior athletic performance.  Many of these successful athletes come from low-income families, like Emmanuel Mudiay, so schools that recruit these standout athletes lower their academic standards to allow people like McCants to play for their school.

Schools also have complained about the need to fund ALL NCAA sports and paying student-athletes would jeopardize their abilities to financially support other athletics on-campus.  The NCAA and these schools must realize, though, that the elite collegiate athletes bring in millions upon millions to the schools through merchandise, ticket sales, and bloated TV contracts.  The best should receive appropriate compensations and schools should not punish publicly renowned athletes like Manziel because of their desire to help everyone else.  It sets a terrible precedent for individuals, especially those who have made it from low-income families, since it does not reward those who have worked their way to the top of the ladder.

Just like the most successful businesses, the best should receive appropriate compensation.  Less than one percent of collegiate athletes reach the pros, and those who make their school teams beat out countless of other individuals to earn their spots.  Sports appeal to a wide audience because people can naturally relate to them by recreationally playing from a young age.  People maintain their fitness levels by playing sports, which fuels greater competition to make it to the top.

Furthermore, by risking their bodies, the “student-athletes” who suffer significant injuries while playing for their schools need to pay their own medical bills AFTER they complete their time at the university.  Medicine has become expensive, and the NCAA will not pay medical bills for athletes who suffer indirect injuries like concussions that impact them later in life.  Yes, they do cover injuries like torn ACL’s until they fully recover but people have increasingly started to speak out against concussions and arthritis resulting from college athletics.  The NCAA does not cover those types of injuries, as the NFL just had to pay a $765 million settlement to protect former players who have campaigned against this case.

The NCAA’s greed and hypocrisy will come back to bite the organization if it does not come to a fair resolution with the athletes regarding pay.  Northwestern University recently came close to a full unionization, where players would have received financial compensation, medical bills, as well as further compensation.  While this may cause issues such as funding other sports and altering competitive balance in the NCAA, the time has come for athletes to receive appropriate financial compensation for their services to the university.  Few institutions have profited more from free labor than the NCAA.  That must end or the NCAA may itself may face some major repercussions.