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The Carletonian

Current college basketball rules rest on tenuous NCAA claims

<u probably know about March Madness. The annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one of the most popular sporting events in America. While most people don’t follow college basketball during the regular season, the month of March means it’s time for millions of people to hone their bracketology skills and watch a bunch of guys they don’t know play basketball.

The championship game this year sold out U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the same location where the Super Bowl was played a year ago. It’s big. And of course, what would a massive American sporting event be without loads of ads and exorbitant ticket prices?

The NCAA, which regulates all college sports, really rakes it in this time of year. Between ticket sales and broadcast rights, this single tournament is a billion dollar business for the organization.

All this revenue is generated mostly by student-athletes. They are the talent, they provide the dramatic finishes and emotional upsets, and they do not get paid. This situation is hardly fair.

The NCAA established rules in the 1950s that limit how much money schools can give to student-athletes. Athletes may be compensated up to the cost of attendance at their school, which typically does not exceed $70,000. When taking into consideration the revenue that some of the top college athletes bring to their programs, this amount is minuscule.

Studies have estimated the value of a premium college basketball player (one who goes on to be drafted into the NBA) at more than $1 million.

This means that a college basketball program will earn an additional $1-4 million from a single talented student-athlete, depending on how long they wait to declare for the NBA draft. This student could only be paid less than one percent of their value.

In most industries, this would be illegal. However, the NCAA has stood up to every challenge of their compensation limits by arguing that the quality of college sports depends on the fact that the players are not paid. 

There are two main arguments made by the NCAA. First, it asserts that by capping pay, it prevents the wealthiest schools from stockpiling talent, thus maintaining a level of competitive balance in college sports. Unfortunately, college sports can hardly be described as balanced. In the men’s basketball tournament from 1950 to 2006, half of all Final Four appearances were made by just 13 schools. That’s less than 5 percent of all eligible teams.

There is a similar concentration of power in other sports, especially women’s basketball and volleyball. This ends up occurring not despite the NCAA’s regulations but because of them. When recruits cannot differentiate between schools based on money, they end up attending the school that they believe affords them the best chance to win.

Not surprisingly, programs that have won frequently in the past have reputations as winning teams. This gives them a much better shot at signing the best recruits, and thus the same top schools continue to field the best teams. 

The NCAA’s second argument is that the quality of college athletics depends on the amateurism of the athletes. By paying students, the NCAA argues that they would then become professional athletes, which would lower the appeal of college sports.

This is difficult to prove or disprove because it is unknown whether people’s perception of college sports would actually change if the athletes were to be paid.

However, athletes do not need to be paid salaries comparable to professional athletes; even a marginal increase in pay would go a long way and likely would not disrupt the level of amateurism very much. 

The current rules have also created a high degree of corruption. In order to gain a leg up on the competition, college recruiters compensate players in the form of illegal under-the-table payments from team employees and shoe companies. This practice has been unearthed through multiple recent scandals indicating its prevalence.

Should we really be limiting student-athlete pay so much that schools resort to bribing 18-year-olds just to get ahead? Division I college athletes deserve to be paid. They are an enormous source of revenue for their schools and should be able to earn a larger piece of their worth.

I agree with the NCAA that it would diminish the value of the game if college athletes could be paid millions of dollars. They indeed are also being paid the value of an education, which is worth far more than a traditional scholarship.

However, colleges should acknowledge that athletes are the driving forces behind the success of any sports program and at least compensate them beyond the cost of their academic expenses.

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