On Sept. 27, it was announced that Electronic Arts and The Collegiate Licensing Company had decided to settle in three lawsuits, agreeing to pay out up to $40 million to college athletes whose likenesses had been featured in NCAA football games over the past 10 years. Apart from the profits of video-game companies, unpaid student-athletes are contributing a product that has created a billion-dollar industry. This process, especially exploitative of football and basketball players, is a controversy that has risen time and time again with no clear solution. As the divide between academia and college athletics expands at universities like Michigan, practical solutions should be explored to compensate student athletes.
The settlement between EA and the CLC will provide athletes featured in the NCAA football video games a cut of the $40-million settlement. Yet, because of the complexity of the payout to various athletes, along with attorney’s fees, many players will receive a paltry compensation compared to the earnings of the industry. In 2011, the NCAA signed a $10.8-billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports for the television rights to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, March Madness. The Big 10’s current television contract exceeds $4 billion in total and comes to $20.7 million per year per school. These immense profits, which don’t take into account merchandising and ticket sales, come from the effort and skill of college athletes who receive no compensation.
The NCAA has long maintained the position that its student-athletes are students first. On Oct. 7, NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke at Marquette University, saying, “One of the guiding principles (of the NCAA) has been that this is about students who play sports.” Despite this sentiment, the academic gap between college athletes and regular students shows that student-athletes are not prioritizing school. At the University, the overall graduation rate was 89.7 percent in 2010. In contrast, University football student-athletes graduated at a significantly lower rate of 69 percent in 2012. In 2011, Michigan’s men’s basketball team had a graduation rate of 36 percent. These percentages directly contradict the notion that student-athletes are considered students first. Instead of being rewarded with a bachelor’s degree, many student-athletes are leaving college early with no degrees and no direct compensation while the collegiate sport business profits immeasurably. This problem is compounded by the fact that, besides college baseball athletes, less than 2 percent of all NCAA amateurs go pro.
One possible way to alleviate to this conundrum is to create a minor league for the NFL. In the NBA, NHL and MLB minor leagues, players can opt to immediately begin playing for a salary if their ultimate goal is to compete as professionals. Expanding these leagues and creating a minor league affiliated with the NFL would solve some of the problems associated with paying college players. For athletes who value a college education, they can pursue one while simultaneously playing the sport they love and excel at playing. And if a player truly stands out on a college team, playing in a national league is still a possibility.
The NCAA has shown that it’s absolutely unwilling to allow college athletes to be monetarily compensated for their abilities and their image, so other options need to be available. Players should be compensated fairly, while simultaneously allowing a viable path for those athletes who wish to attain a college education.