Anik Joshi: Why we should pay college athletes

Monday, April 8, 2019 - 3:01pm

In case you were living under a rock, these past weekends had a number of college basketball games. I could not watch all of them, but the ones I watched were action packed and enjoyable – and they weren’t just enjoyable for those of you who can’t stand Duke. Per USA Today, the four coaches (Bruce Pearl, Tom Izzo, Chris Beard and Tony Bennett) who made it to the Final Four took home a combined $1 million in bonuses alone. The four of them still make gobs of money even without bonuses factored in — Virginia’s coach makes a total of about $4.15 million, Auburn’s coach had a salary of $2.6 million for the 2018-2019 season Michigan State’s coach made $3.7 million for the 2018-2019 season, and Texas Tech’s coach made $2.8 million for the 2018-2019 season. The players, who I assume are the reason we watch these games, made a total of zero dollars in bonuses, which combines with their lucrative zero dollars during the season as well as their lucrative endorsement deals (which also net them zero dollars) for a grand total of zero dollars. Quite a difference, isn’t it?

In fiscal year 2017, the NCAA made over a billion dollars per their financial reports. Colleges also make boatloads of money off of their players, whether it be through ways that are ostensibly ethical, like licensing and deciding what shoes players can wear (with occasionally disastrous results), or through more blatantly unethical means, such as not allowing students to enter into likeness-based endorsement deals or even admit that they play college sports. And what do students get in exchange for enabling showers of gold for their colleges, coaches and conferences? Free Wi-Fi. One need not be a scholar of deals to see that it is an inordinately raw one and it is something decent people should want addressed for the sake of fairness.

There are several ways to go about addressing this – from paying athletes directly, allowing them to enter into likeness-based endorsement deals or giving them a share of revenues. Athletes deserve to make money on top of their athletic scholarships for a number of reasons. Usually the hours that are put in are comparable to a full-time job (40 hours a week) and as a result, it can become more difficult to have spending money. Secondly, they should be allowed to sign endorsement deals with whatever brands they choose and should absolutely be free to license their likeness — there is no good reason that the league should be able to profit off athletes if the athletes themselves cannot. Lastly, athletes generate a lot of money for their institutions. There are some people who disagree with paying athletes because they receive scholarships, but I believe this is mistaken. While they do get scholarships, that funding is not remotely equivalent to the amount of money they generate for the NCAA. From SBNation, the back of the napkin math goes like this: The NCAA got $857 million for the broadcast rights to this tournament (from Turner Broadcasting, if you were wondering) and there are 68 teams each with 13 scholarship spots for a total of 884 scholarship players and, while no one knows the exact value of a scholarship, it could probably be pegged from $30,000 on the low end to $50,000 on the high end. Multiplying the number of scholarships by the high value of a scholarship (and assuming high end costs), one gets $44.2 million in total scholarship money given to NCAA players. Five percent of $857 million is $43.75 million. The total compensation from schools to players is just over five percent of the money the NCAA gets from the broadcast licensing of this tournament. One need not be a Marxist to think that this distribution is skewed unfairly.

Coaches, conferences and schools are all pivotal parts of the game. However, at the end of the day, we tune in to see the players, and it is time that they get something commensurate with the wealth they create for those above them. They have been geese laying golden eggs for far too long and deserve equitable treatment.

Anik Joshi can be reached at anikj@umich.edu.