Denis Perez / The Advocate

NCAA sells dreams: student-athletes finessed

It’s 2018, the NCAA hit an all-time high for annual revenue of more than $1 billion last year, universities are raking in hundreds of millions in sports revenue and coaches are making millions upon millions of dollars each year.
Yet, for some absurd reason, student-athletes go to sleep every night as poor as ever.
What’s worse, whenever one of these starving athletes takes any kind of money under the table, or above board, it’s looked upon as some sort of criminal act.
The most basic draw for fans to sports as entertainment is undoubtedly the athletes.
Nobody watches the Golden State Warriors focused on seeing what kind of defensive adjustments coach Steve Kerr makes at halftime. People usually don’t tune in to New England Patriots games dying to watch Bill Belichick relay plays to the offense.
Fans, whether casual or die-hard, tune into this more than $70 billion industry called “sports” to watch Stephen Curry drain 30-foot jump shots and Tom Brady throw touchdowns to freak athletes like Rob Gronkowski.
This rings true for college sports as well, and, in particular, NCAA college basketball and football.
The NCAA and college sports organizations draw in huge amounts of revenue, mostly due to the success of the teams on the field. And who make up a team in organized sports? You guessed it, the players.
The coaches, training staff and recruiters, of course, play a big part in team and organizational success. But in the end, who makes the plays that ultimately result in the success or failure of the organization? Who sacrifices their bodies, and in some cases their lives, for these wins and losses on the field?
Whether you like it or not, it all comes down to the players.
These college athletes, like Duke forward Zion Williamson, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Stanford running back Bryce Love, are pretty much celebrities before even becoming “professionals” in their field.
They are considered amateur players, yet are focal points in promotions for universities and sports networks like ESPN.
It would be expected that the athletes, who generate that absurd amount of revenue, would be living the high life of luxury and fame. But fame is about all they get and they can’t even profit off of that without breaking rules imposed by the NCAA.
These players, whether polarizing stars or bench-warmers, are basically employees of their colleges. They make it possible for their colleges to rake in millions of dollars. But do student-athletes get any type of payment for their hard work and sacrifice? Of course they don’t. That would be a blasphemous concept to these universities and the NCAA.
This is justified by the concept that student-athletes are being “paid” with scholarships that cover tuition, their dorm rooms and just enough food to survive. NCAA rules even prevent them from holding a paying job during their season of sport.
That’s pretty much the extent of it.
The University of Alabama’s football program will make well over $100 million in revenue this year and Alabama head football coach Nick Saban will make $7.5 million.
But Alabama star quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Tagovailoa won’t make a dime beyond his scholarship, whether or not his play and postseason awards bring in millions of dollars in revenue for his college.
These kids, especially the ones from impoverished backgrounds trying to get themselves and their families out of terrible living conditions, are given no money for things like food, clothes or transportation.
Some of the jobs these student-athletes had while in high school contributed to the income of their households. Now that they are in college, that lack of income puts a lot of those families in a tough position.
Right before playing in the 2014 National Championship Game, University of Connecticut star point guard Shabazz Napier told assembled media, “Sometimes, there are hungry nights where I’m not able to eat. But I still got to play up to my capabilities.”
Napier would lead his team to the NCAA title shortly after saying this, ultimately netting a huge amount of revenue — not for him or his teammates — but for the University of Connecticut, the NCAA and CBS, which aired the tournament.
Some of these athletes are forced to starve at night, but are still expected to show up to every practice, work extremely hard and get good enough grades to maintain their scholarship.
Many say they should just get jobs, like other college students. That notion is impossible to realize as NCAA athletes could lose their scholarships if they broke the rules and held down a paying job during their season of sport.
Budding NBA superstar and former #1 overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons made headlines in 2016 with his words on the topic: “The NCAA is really f—ed up. Everybody’s making money except the players. We’re the ones waking up early as hell to be the best teams and do everything they want us to do, and then we get nothing. They say education, but if I’m there for a year, I can’t get much education.”
These student-athletes are usually applauded for staying in college instead of leaving for the NBA or NFL for the money. This is something I just don’t understand. According to many people, it’s good for these kids and their families to continue to live in poverty for a few more years in college just so they can earn a degree in something they are probably not too invested in.
Had rookie Utah Jazz forward Grayson Allen entered the NBA draft after his sophomore year at Duke University a year ago, he would’ve been a sure-fire top-10 pick and would have made much more money than he currently is after spending another year pursuing a Duke degree while continuing to play for the Blue Devils.
He decided to go back to school for another year and was injured. The setback ultimately stunted his statistics and minutes in college and ended up costing him millions.
This is just a mild case, however.
What’s incredible is these issues have been on the minds of college athletes for a long time and still nothing has really changed.
In 1991, the University of Michigan basketball team swept the nation.
The “Fab Five,” consisting of student-athletes Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Chris Webber might have been the biggest sports story of the year. The NCAA, Michigan and TV networks profited heavily off of the five starting freshman, whose antics and style on and off the court captivated the world.
At the time, these players were bigger than basketball.
Yet, Webber would see fans wearing his, and his teammates’ jerseys, that the University of Michigan was being paid for, and thought to himself, “Why aren’t we getting paid for this? It’s my name they’re making money off of, and I’m still broke.
However, people still fault Webber for taking money from boosters and the university, breaking NCAA rules and resulting in sanctions for both himself and the college.
Trials and investigations are currently underway regarding universities and college coaches for allegedly giving money to top high school prospects as incentives to join their teams.
Athletes can also be stripped of all awards, championships and wins if they have been caught accepting money under the table.
Former NFL running back Reggie Bush was forced to give back his 2005 Heisman Trophy award — something he rightfully earned on the field. The NCAA constantly fines and sanctions colleges for paying players. The colleges accept these penalties and pay thousands, if not millions, to the NCAA as a consequence.
Funny thing is, these universities wouldn’t have to go through any of these scandals, trials, firings or fines if they would simply pay players a small amount of money, or at least be allowed to by the NCAA.
I’m not saying student-athletes should be paid tens-of-thousands or millions of dollars. I don’t even think student-athletes should be paid differently based on recruitment priority or performance.
Give these players around $500 to $1,000 per month above their scholarships. Even a little less than that could suffice. Give them enough for the necessities of living a student-athlete lifestyle, like a decent meal to eat every night.
Will colleges and boosters still be giving large sums of money to entice high school prospects to join their program? Sure.
Every year thousands, a large number of them being poor, African-American students, are basically giving free labor to these already filthy rich university presidents and coaches, all to make them profit and get richer off the athletes’ hard work and name recognition.
What kind of picture does that put in your head? Probably one that should be abolished.

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