By Darren Johnson
I say proudly that I skipped watching the NCAA “March Madness” tournament this year.
Yes, it is exciting when small programs make it – locally, LIU-Brooklyn, UAlbany and Iona made the show and were quickly overwhelmed – and, from a sporting perspective, there is nothing quite like a 67-team showdown over a short span of time.
But I can’t get past one thing: These athletes are being exploited. Not at the Ionas of the world, but at the colleges that trounce the Ionas.
Yes, the athletes are, legally, grown adults. They can opt to play for a college on scholarship and get some free credits and a room to crash in and a meal plan for a year or so.
But that’s about it. The number of players from March Madness who will make it to the NBA is infinitesimal. Prof. Gary Sanders at the University of Indiana estimates that 2.5% of male college basketball players from elite programs will play at least one year in the NBA (and a year or two is hardly enough to get rich). Other studies put that number at less than 1%.
Meanwhile, Sanders reports that 52% of black college basketball players in top programs THINK that they will go pro. Are the other 48% on the bench?
Obviously, these students are being misled, perhaps by coaches who earn over a million dollars a year.
Another study, supported by the NCAA, says that only 14.6% of black male athletes in top basketball programs graduate. The number isn’t much better for white males – 26.7%. Compared to the overall population, male players at top basketball colleges – even though they usually have a free ride – are 31% less likely to graduate.
Wonder why storied UConn was not in the tournament this year? Because of their paltry 11% graduation rate, the NCAA has them on probation. These big sports schools care very little about the longterm well-being of their athletes.
It would be a lot better if these athletes were paid. The big schools make millions in selling jerseys and such, not to mention ticket sales and TV money.
Colleges with bad teams get paid money from good teams just to play them so that they could pad their records.
And players from neither team get money for that. And how about that poor guy whose leg snapped in half recently? What will he get?
Yes, I get the argument that college athletes should be amateurs. And if you pay the players in the popular sports, do you also have to pay the lacrosse and field hockey players?
Here’s a simple solution: Put aside 10% of all gross revenue the college makes from sales of merchandise, TV rights and tickets for each sport. If basketball makes a million and lacrosse $1000, so be it. At a certain date, perhaps well after graduation, release the money to the players. That way, they still were amateurs while playing, but they get a lump sum a few years later to do what they want with. The basketball player will get a lot more than the lacrosse player, but the players could figure that out going in – and by looking at the number of people in the stands.
How this would be calculated for Title IX and gender equity would have to be determined, but the current situation is totally exploitative of the athletes; at least the ones playing basketball and football at top sports colleges. (The sports where the athletes are most likely to graduate: field hockey and lacrosse, according to NCAA stats.)
Now, there are some cases where colleges make money off of a particular athlete – say they sell a jersey with his number in the campus store. In those cases, an account should be made for that particular athlete – say at another 10% – where he can get a lump sum someday from. Most of us would pay an additional 20% for a college jersey knowing 10% would go to the team and 10% to the athlete, right? That would make me MORE likely to buy that jersey.
Sure, those athletes good enough to have their jersey for sale most likely will go on to a pro career, but not always. There have been many athletes who starred in college but were not considered big, durable or fast enough for the pros. With my plan, at least they would get something for their athletic efforts, if not a degree.