Anyone who follows NCAA men’s basketball knows that today’s head coaches rarely have great players who stick around for four years. They’re lucky if their best players last two years before heading to the NBA. An NCAA men’s basketball player is 20.6 percent less likely to graduate than a non-athletic student — and the number jumps to 32.4 percent in the NCAA’s biggest conferences. Whether you’re talking about the NBA or the NFL, professional sports leagues constantly reach down to pluck top NCAA talent. The players miss out on finishing their educations, and university sports teams lose their competitive edges.
Up to now, student athletes have received a free or reduced-cost college education in exchange for their playing abilities. Now, if they win a lawsuit against the NCAA, students may also take a cut of university profits in exchange for playing. Universities have tried to limit student athletes’ contact with professional sports leagues and agents, but scholarships are no longer enough. Students want a bigger piece of the pie, and the NCAA may have to evolve if it wants to compete with the pros.
How It All Started
In 2009, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company for profiting off of use of his likeness in an EA Sports NCAA video game. EA paid the NCAA to license its logo and name for the video games, but the players never received any compensation for the use of their likenesses. Six other players joined the lawsuit. In September 2013, EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company settled with O’Bannon and the other plaintiffs.
The NCAA has vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court, and here’s why: If student athletes receive compensation for the use of their images in video games, then they could have grounds to demand compensation for their television appearances. The NCAA store has stopped selling player jerseys and personalized player memorabilia online in what some say is an effort to head off the lawsuit. Losing a cut of television revenue would mean shifting serious money away from coaches, athletic administrators and schools.
Why Universities Are Scared
Contrary to popular belief, many NCAA sports programs aren’t extremely profitable. While some major programs make a significant amount of money selling game tickets and collecting fees from ESPN, the median university athletics department clears about $1.1 million per year. To put that into perspective, your average college with 12,000 students spends about $440 million per year.
College sports do make money for universities by increasing local political and popular support. That support can affect university finances in four ways:
- 1. Free media coverage. Northwestern University and Mathematica Policy Research published findings indicating half of all newspaper articles covering public colleges are about athletics.
2. Higher enrollment. Universities with major football and basketball programs often have higher numbers of enrolled students and can recruit higher-performing students outside of sports. Winning a national championship, for example, can boost a school’s overall enrollment by 10 percent.
3. Political favors. Universities frequently provide free, discounted or privileged tickets to local government officials, university board members and powerful members of the local business community. For example, of the VIP guests who sit in university president’s boxes at university football games, about 20 percent are legislators and 40 percent are influential business people.
4. More public funding. Universities that made the jump to NCAA Division 1-A received about $6 million more in annual appropriations compared to universities that made no division changes.
The End of Pure Amateurism
Giving a cut to student athletes could mean a significant reduction in university revenues even if those revenues don’t come directly from ticket sales. Some also argue that compensating student athletes takes away their incentive to graduate.
However, with more student athletes being snatched up by the pros, the NCAA may have to modernize its eligibility rules. Even though some college scholarships from universities can exceed $40,000 in value, those scholarships aren’t enough to keep the best players from heading to the big leagues.
Ohio University Players Image by Billy Adams from Flickr’s Creative Commons
UCA Players Image by University of Central Arkansas from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Jerry Fielder is a sports writer who loves to bet on NCAA sports. He recommends http://www.onlinesportsbetting.net for reviews of the best online sports betting sites.