Thesis: The NCAA’s compensation rules are fine just as they are.
March is well underway, and with it comes the annual flurry of excitement over the NCAA’s Division 1 basketball tournament, more commonly known as March Madness. Along with all the media hype and debates over which teams deserve to be picked comes a far more important annual debate: that about NCAA athlete compensation.
The tournament generates a massive bubble of economic activity. As Forbes writes, the yearly event triggers a revenue stream of nearly $1 billion for the NCAA at large (mostly through the sale of broadcasting and advertising rights), with around half a billion going to the schools involved. But as the article notes, the benefits aren’t always direct – schools who make it far in the tournament often see a massive increase in donations as a result of the exposure, donations that can be quantified in the range of millions of dollars. And the betting on the tournament, most of which is illegal, generates a whopping $9 billion in additional activity, according to Vox. So where does all this money (the legal money, that is) end up going?
While that may be a tough question to answer, we know one thing: essentially none of it ends up in the hands of players. Despite the millions of dollars that flow to a school as a result of a tournament, despite the millions of dollars that schools spend on coaches’ salaries (per CBS), the main labor involved in providing this source of entertainment receives absolutely no compensation. And so every year, the public re-asks itself the same question: is this at all fair?
I would say no, it is not fair. It’s not fair that those who are directly responsible with providing for a multi-billion dollar business don’t get to see any of the profits. However, instead of seeing injustice, I see the unfortunate result of a system that doesn’t have any easy solution. Allowing schools to offer compensation to players outside of scholarship opportunities would put smaller schools at a huge disadvantage, and threaten the sanctity of the tournament. Instead of having the exciting possibility of smaller underdogs uprooting nationally recognized programs, the tournament would become a bland affair where everybody watching knew ahead of time what team would win (at least for the first few rounds), as the biggest programs would instantly become constant powerhouses who could not only attract the best talent, but pay them the most. It would also de-incentive athletes from deciding to attend schools based on factors that could impact them as members of society, such as the quality of the education they receive.
For the vast majority of students who will never reach the pros (just 1.2% of basketball players go pro, according to the NCAA website), playing a collegiate sport is not a career, but a means to obtaining a degree at a school where they otherwise might not have been able to obtain one. The most valuable thing that most players will receive while in school is their education, and it should remain that way.