Last year, I engaged in a short campaign on CNN, CBS Sports, ESPN and the L.A. Times to highlight major problems with “big time” college athletics. It is not my goal to anger anyone, but rather, to share what I have seen in my 15 years teaching at universities with major athletics programs.
As a finance professor, I find the financial problems of the NCAA to be borderline criminal. As an educator, I find the educational mission of the NCAA to be fraudulent. As a black man who has seen what the NCAA does to the black community, I find myself simply offended.
The NCAA is in possession of an 11-year, $6 billion contract for the rights to air March Madness. This does not include hundreds of millions of dollars earned each year from bowl games, regular season games, merchandizing agreements and concessions.
Coaches earn as much as $4 million per year, while the players and their families, many of whom come from poverty, earn almost nothing. Coaches are allowed to jump from job to job, going to the highest bidder, while players who transfer lose a year of eligibility.
Coaches and administrators earn millions from excessive commercialization of player images, while a player is not allowed to earn a penny from his/her own image. This does not include the fact that many institutions will praise and promote a winning coach with low graduation rates and quickly fire coaches with low winning percentages and high graduation rates.
I have witnessed students being taken out of class for an entire week to play in a nationally-televised football or basketball game, with academics (and the fact that the student’s grade has been jeopardized) becoming an afterthought. Players are treated like professional athletes, not students, and a weak performance on the field will cause them to lose their scholarship.
Any institution operating as a government-sanctioned cartel, riddled with hypocrisy, disproportionate and exploitative compensation schemes, and glaring disregard for educational values should be scrutinized more carefully. Earning money is a wonderful thing, but I am not sure why coaches and administrators are allowed to earn billions each year from the labor of players with mothers who can’t pay the rent.
I know how much tuition costs, and it is miniscule compared to the amount of money players generate for their coaches and universities. I say pay the players a fair salary, let them negotiate their own contracts and shoe deals, and then allow them to pay their own tuition.
If you believe in fairness for these young men and women, I hope you will consider joining our coalition to boycott the NCAA and March Madness. If you love sports like me, then feel free to watch a game or two. Just keep your views to a minimum and avoid watching the commercials. This sounds silly, but it is my small effort to help us understand this complicated problem and to hopefully have some impact on the bottom-line of the NCAA.
I am not trying to cause trouble with these statements. I am simply asking for fairness. One star player (whose coach received millions in bonuses) saw his brother shot and killed in a housing project because his mother was too poor to move to a better neighborhood. Another player took money from a booster to help his family pay the rent, and then saw his scholarship taken away.
I saw a player’s mother forced to beg her church to help her get to the Final Four to see her son play, while the coach’s family received first class accommodations. What is ironic is that even raising money from the church would have been an NCAA violation, causing her son to lose his scholarship.
If you don’t agree with me, I understand. But as a professor, financial expert and a human being, I cannot remain silent on such an injustice. Some don’t feel the athletes deserve anything better than what they already get. We all must agree that basketball games don’t happen without basketball players, so if a game earns millions in revenue, then the basketball player is more deserving of this revenue than the coach. If that doesn’t make sense, then I’m sorry.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor of finance at Syracuse University.