College is an essential part of the modern American mythos; it is where our youth gives its fighting last gasps in the form of parties, friends, and fun. The geniuses of the world are also found there- albeit dropping out in that self-independent rebellion America so loves in its heroes and inventors, and moving on to found and build Facebook, Apple, Google, or the like. A newer rising theme in our national consciousness portrays the college graduate as a poor soul with little to no job prospects and five or six figures of student loan debt. Finally, college is inextricably a member of the essential American bread and circus: sports.
Both college football and March Madness are essential in American sporting lore and their ticket sales and television contracts largely contribute to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s popularity and revenue. But beyond the NCAA’s two main sporting events, the loyalty of students, alumni, and local residents to their school’s athletic teams exhibit both another source of revenue and create the ties that many ordinary Americans have to college sports.
I recall a conversation with a foreign acquaintance a month or two ago; during the course of some trivial conversation, I asked if he followed any American sports. “Of course,” he said. “I love the March Madness! I suppose all those players must get all the money and women that the NBA stars didn’t already take, haha!” It was now my duty, of course, to dispel his notion of a paid student athlete (the horror!) and inform him of the infallible justice and fairness in recompensing the student athletes that earn over 50 colleges over $50 million a year and the industry a good $11 billion, according to the US News, with (sometimes) a free or discounted education at the greatest such institution on Earth: the American University!
In discussing the American University, one cannot neglect their status as the priciest higher education system among developed nations (US News). Following this line of logic, some might justify the fact that the NCAA already provides their student-athletes with scholarships to colleges that are very expensive. However, CBS News reports that only 2 percent of high school athletes ever even earn an NCAA scholarship- and these 2 percent earn scholarships averaging less than $11,000 a year. And yet the average total fees for a 4 year institution from 2011 to 2012 was over $23,000, per the National Center for Education Statistics. Finally, there are only six sports of which NCAA Schools grant so-called “full ride” scholarships.
But now how about the unparalleled quality of the American University? Surely for such a steep price, our colleges must offer an unparalleled education! Yet, America’s education ranks as 17th in the developed world, according to a 2012 Pearson global report. The top schools of America are still obviously regarded as some of the best worldwide, but these Ivies and Stanfords and MITs are not the NCAA’s powerhouses of athletic scholarships; instead, the NCAA focuses more on public state schools- schools such as Oklahoma, Cal, and Central Michigan. What do these colleges have in common? NCAA Division I football teams with a Graduation Success Rate of under 50 percent, as reported by the NCAA itself. Research by the College Sport Research Institute found that Division 1 men’s basketball players had, on average, a 20.6% lower graduation rate than the student body. D1 football programs involved in Bowls? 18.5% lower graduation rate than the student body.
In NCAA’s 104 years as the primary collegiate athletics organization and source of major sports entertainment in America, it has never paid its student-athletes, with the justification that they are amateurs and the free or cheaper education they receive is sufficient compensation for their play. Neither of these points are valid anymore; the issue of payment in education is addressed above, but the classification of college sports, especially Division I, as amateur athletics, is in direct conflict with reality. Kentucky’s Division I men’s basketball team has sent at least two freshmen directly to the NBA every year since 2010, according to CBS Sports. Are these players not playing at a professional value in college? Additionally, The Atlantic estimates that 2013’s March Madness NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament attracted over $12 billion of bets worldwide. The Super Bowl, in contrast, attracted $10 billion of wagers worldwide. If gamblers would rather bet on an “amateur” basketball tournament than the pinnacle of American professional football (which brings in over $6 billion in revenue annually), can March Madness really be termed as “amateur”?
Recently, the issue of paying college athletes has been popularized in the general public and media and, on August 8th, 2014, a U.S. District judge ruled against the NCAA in a case where several former college athletes sued, alleging that the NCAA and its conferences had become an “unlawful cartel” that robbed men’s basketball and football players of their rightful revenues. Additionally, Northwestern University’s D1 football team recently became the first to unionize. Progress has been made, and the prospect of a just NCAA may seem just arounds the corner, but nothing will be done without action on the part of athletes, politicians, and other prominent figures, public and private. However, the most important factor in swaying the NCAA is the common fan of college sports- you and me. If we boycott a system we find to be inherently unfair and inequitable and inform colleges of why we are not buying their merchandise or tickets, the stream of the NCAA’s lifeblood, its revenue unfettered by justice, will thin to a trickle. Only then will the feeble excuses and justifications fall away and the student-athletes of this nation will be treated as the rightful employees and great sportsmen and sportswomen they are.