Story by Griffin Shapiro '18
Around this time every year, in the aftermath of the NCAA March Madness Tournament, one often hears the same question repeated by basketball super fans and casual observers alike: Why don’t these players get paid?
Everyone else involved in the tournament gets paid for his role in the event, from the coaches to the broadcasters to the colleges whose teams qualify for the tournament.
The NCAA itself has a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for the rights to televise the tournament. With so much money changing hands as college basketball becomes a larger and larger business, it’s easy to think that “amatuer” college athletes who play the most important role in the games are exploited by the system. So why don’t the players get paid?
It’s a good question, though it may not be the right one. For years, the NCAA has claimed that players are given compensation in the form of scholarships that often include the cost of tuition, room and board, and medical care. Additionally, almost all of the money that the NCAA makes goes right back into the athletic programs at each school that provide students with a chance to compete and expert coaching that helps many of them move on to professional sports. In that way, the money that the players help bring in channels right back to future players in the form of coaches, facilities, and scholarships. The right question is whether scholarships in their current form are reasonable pay for student-athletes.
In 1973, the NCAA passed a rule that replaced four-year scholarships with renewable one-year grants. Players that once would have had guaranteed free rides now faced the possibility of losing their only financial compensation at any time in their college education. In 2012, the NCAA once again allowed multiyear scholarships, though it did not require them. While many large schools that routinely strive for championships and qualify for March Madness have started to use multiyear scholarships, the majority of small schools still only provide athletes with one-year offers that can be reduced or withdrawn for misconduct, injury, or even simply underperformance on the field or court.
This system of renewing scholarships based on a player’s performance sounds eerily like the professional model. Coaches make the decision to cut players off of their scholarships, crushing not only their athletic aspirations but also their dreams of receiving an education for free or at a reduced price. The athletic staff has control over the players and can threaten rescinding their scholarships to manipulate them. This relationship is too close to the relationship between an employee and an employer to be considered part of amatuer sports. Student-athletes need to feel secure that they are receiving an education regardless of their athletic performance. For the NCAA to claim that the players are in fact justly reimbursed for the time they devote to athletics, the education of these players must be guaranteed no matter how they perform on their teams.
While college athletes aren’t paid in the same form that professionals are, they do receive compensation for their ability through their cheap or free education and housing. An education is priceless, and it is payment enough for student-athletes, but in order to assure this compensation, the NCAA must require schools to provide their athletes with four-year scholarships that cannot be tools to punish athletes for injuries or failing to live up to expectations.