While we’re in the season of watching college students play basketball, it’s time to consider how much of this multi-billion-dollar business is shared with the players themselves.
Major universities each collect millions of dollars from their football and men’s basketball teams (at some schools, hockey and/or women’s basketball are also big money-makers). The cash comes not only from ticket sales, but from lucrative TV broadcast deals and merchandising. Jerseys are sold with players’ names on them, promotional materials with players’ likenesses are published, yet these players aren’t paid a cent.
The NCAA gets rich off the myth of the “student athlete.” But a serious student who happens to be on The Team is likely to graduate with lower grades than a similar student who’s not on The Team. Many other “students” are shepherded thru a program of easy courses designed to keep star athletes “eligible.” Some drop out of school early to grab lucrative contracts in the NBA or the NFL. It’s all a charade.
I have a better idea: Let the college conferences function like the minor leagues in baseball. Let the players put their full concentration into being elite players by not forcing them to go to school at the same time. Pay the players a modest salary and let them make money from merchandising their names and likenesses. Set up a system to keep the pay rates fair and equitable, and have it subsidized by the professional leagues who benefit from this player development system.
Then, for each year a player participates in this manner, he or she is guaranteed a year of full scholarship at the host university, to be redeemed at the time of the athlete’s choosing. So after the athletic career is over, an athlete can focus on getting the education needed to set up the next phase of his/her life.
The recruiter’s big promise to a star high-school athlete: play for our school and you’ll get a world-class education. It doesn’t work that way when the kid is asked to do both at once. Let them make a modest living focussing on their athletics, so they can concentrate on being the best students they can be when their lives in sports wind down.