Last week, the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced findings from an FBI probe that have implicated four high-profile NCAA basketball programs in a web of bribery and blatant corruption. More specifically, these charges allege that certain assistant coaches as well as the executives of various sports apparel companies have paid collegiate basketball players and their families. According to the FBI, these “favors” served to pressure impressionable college players to commit to certain NBA programs as well to sign sponsorship deals once they went professional.
The scandal has been largely discussed as an ethical wrongdoing, one that clearly violates the rules of the NCAA. Current regulations prohibit, under any circumstances, players from receiving external compensation of any kind. Alone, these mandates appear to check the gross transgressions within the intersection of collegiate sports and high-profile sports marketing that can occur. However, it can be argued that the current system of regulations mandated by the NCAA has in fact encouraged such surreptitious back-dealings to occur within a high-profile collegiate sports environment driven by the high-stakes NBA draft and sponsorship deals.
Opponents of compensating college athletes often claim that the players are being compensated enough by receiving a free collegiate education. This comes in the form of scholarships, access to campus amenities and the opportunity to attend some of the finest institutions across the nation. What is often ignored, however, is that players often spend a large part of their time on campus practicing for the sports they play. Football and basketball, the primary revenue-generating collegiate sports, are notorious for the copious hours that coaches require players to commit to. As a result, the classes an athlete can take are limited. During the March Madness tournament, basketball players can miss up to a quarter of their coursework during the spring semester as they vie for the national championship. For Division I athletes, it can appear that the ball comes before academics, often without any choice in the matter.
Another popular argument is that athletes voluntarily play sports; under this argument, it remains completely up to the athlete if they want to continue playing for their university. However, many athletes are attending university on a full or partial scholarship that is dependent upon them competing for their school. To assert that players voluntarily put themselves into comprising positions underscores the reality that many students (athletes included) fall below the poverty line. In some instances, an injury can result in a scholarship being revoked, leaving student-athletes little to fall back on. For many, a sports scholarship is the ticket out of a socioeconomic environment where the chances for success are sparse. For others, it is a stepping stone to the possibility of playing in major league organizations. Nonetheless, these motivations stem from a lack of financial resources, which the NCAA clearly has access to.
The NCAA generates approximately $11 billion in the college sports industry. From sponsorship deals and alumni donations to broadcasting rights, the NCAA has remained an economic powerhouse that rivals the power of the NBA. A large portion of this revenue sits in the palms of coaches, athletic directors, and school administrators. Some schools funnel the revenue into new athletic facilities for their players while others create expensive campus attractions to bring in more prospective students. Whether these benefits support the ever-increasing salaries of collegiate sports staff is not a matter of discussion. The amount of money that the NCAA has at its disposal is more than enough to compensate their athletes adequately for the work that they provide. It is time that the NCAA reform its broken system and instead focus on sharing a more equitable slice of the pie that so many overworked revenue-generating student athletes furnish for the organization.
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