OPINION: The financial relationship between players and the NCAA needs to change

by | Dec 18, 2020 | Opinion, Sports

College basketball is one of the most exciting products sport produces. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s March Madness tournament is one of the most-watched television events every year, generating billions of dollars for colleges, the NCAA and oddsmakers.

But notably, none of that revenue goes to the players on the court.

The conversation about paying college basketball and football players is a long and muddy one. Some balk at the notion of paying amateurs a dime, a chorus led by Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, who says the players are compensated with a world-class education.

However, there is a growing number of others who question how it is at all fair that these athletes are working, ostensibly, for free.

Some of the pushback on paying college players is the idea that every one of these collegiate players is going to have a bright future making millions in the NBA. But numbers from the NCAA itself debunk that idea, as just more than one per cent of basketball players are drafted every year.

The NCAA appeared to be almost feudal in nature in the way it operates. While collecting huge revenues and some coaching staff earning millions per year, UConn basketball star Shabazz Napier told the world in 2014 there were nights he didn’t eat because he didn’t have money to buy food.

So what is the solution? I’m sure the NCAA’s answer is nothing. Why would they change when they’re making off like bandits? But the NBA has forced the NCAA’s hand by allowing high school players to skip out on college and go straight into the NBA’s developmental league, entering their names into the draft the year after.

There’s also speculation the rule put in place after the 2005 NBA draft forcing high school players to wait a year before entering their names may be eliminated for the 2022-2023 season.

If that comes to fruition the NCAA will almost certainly see a drop-off in talent across the board, as there is little incentive for a five-star recruit to go to play in college, risking injury or a drop-off in skills and putting potential earnings in jeopardy.

As for the “world-class education,” the simple fact is these young men go to college to play basketball. They have dreams of being professional basketball players, suggesting for some top recruits, education means next to nothing.

But it’s not just the NBA knocking on the NCAA’s door. The college sports body has legal trouble as well. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up an appeal by the NCAA where a lower court ruled denying the organization to put a cap on how much colleges can pay their players for education-related expenses. The original suit was brought by many, including Shawne Alston, a former football player for West Virginia, and this is the first time the high court will hear a case involving the NCAA since 1984.

Along with the legal issues is a recommendation by The Knight Commission, a panel of academics and sports leaders, that college football should separate from the NCAA and operate as it’s own entity. If that decision is made it opens the door for college basketball to follow, all but ensuring the demise of the NCAA as we know it.

So it seems clear the NCAA must make a change, both in its rules on eligibility and on its stance for paying its players. These changes must be made, for the simple fact that college athletics are an important part of the sports ecosystem. It provides some the chance to develop their skills, and the education some receive actually is important, as only a small number will go on to play professionally.

Collegiate athletics needs to be a viable option in the changing landscape of sports, but the NCAA seems to be doing everything in its power to stop that from happening.