NCAA puppeteers and student athletes lose big

Being an avid viewer of college sports, I am surprised at how long it took me to question the NCAA and its methods. My first introduction to the outrageous scam our universities play on their elite athletes was a compelling snippet from the acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, "The Fab Five."

Mitch Albom, author of a book about the revolutionary early-'90s University of Michigan basketball team, tells a remarkable story about the most talented member of the Wolverines, Chris Webber.



Webber, despite his prowess as an athlete, was no more financially sound than any other college student. On a day out with Albom, Webber asked Albom for some “gas or pizza” money, a request the journalist had to a refuse as an employee of the Detroit Free Press. They later walked past a store in Ann Arbor that was selling Michigan basketball jerseys with Webber’s number on it for $75, leaving the young man wondering why his university could be making millions off of him while he was still asking for petty change. I’m sure many other professional-bound athletes have similar stories that led them to leave their respective universities, and they would be right in doing so.

Given the way college athletics have evolved, it’s time we begin to differentiate between a “student-athlete” and “an athlete playing for a school”.

There is a difference, and for the latter, a scholarship is nowhere near enough compensation.

Basketball and football stars simply deserve more than that. If schools are selling merchandise based on an athlete’s likeness in massive quantities, the athlete deserves a huge chunk of that money.

If people are filling stadiums to see them compete in bowl games or an NCAA tournament, they deserve more than a voucher for education from a university.

We can’t keep turning our heads at universities taking advantage of 18- to 22-year-olds who fuel the money-making machine of college athletics.

Andrew Sharp of Grantland details just how much money these athletes are bringing in:

The March Madness broadcast rights are worth $771 million alone every year. That’s before you factor in a merchandise industry that was worth$4.62 billion in 2012. Or events like the Final Four, held in an 80,000-seat stadium where prices on the NCAA-sanctioned secondary ticket market rangefrom $130 to $2,750.

The NCAA is a greedy organization that is short-changing their employees. Yes, I said employees.

Northwestern University football players recently made headlines for referring to themselves this way. The athletes are seeking to form the first union of collegiate athletes, which would federally classify them as employees.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of this bid this past week, leaving huge implications for the college athletics landscape.

It might take a while, but this could be a monumental first step for providing fair compensation to college athletes. In being unionized as employees, there is ample opportunity in the future to push for payment as employees, as well as the chance to bargain for better treatment as a union.

"We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid," according to a statement the NCAA released in response to the NLRB ruling.

I don’t care. It is not permissible to take the money these athletes generate and keep it all for the NCAA.

Reach the columnist at or follow him on Twitter @MurphJamin

Editor's note: The opinion presented in this column is the author's and does not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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