Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Clayton Kershaw and Cody Kessler are major stars in the Los Angeles sports market; however, while Bryant, Paul and Kershaw are compensated handsomely for leading their respective teams as the face of the franchise, Kessler receives nothing for similar work.
For Kessler and the 460,000 student-athletes in the country who struggle with juggling athletics with academics and collegiate life, it is unfair for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to treat them like employees without any compensation for what is essentially a full-time job while limiting their time to devote to education.
Schools profit much more from an athlete such as Kessler than the quarterback gains from his scholarship. His picture is plastered on posters hyping the upcoming football season. His jersey number is the featured selection on USC’s online store. His name alone draws attention that provides immense profit for the school.
Yet, for being the key player — and a potential Heisman trophy winner — for one of the top programs in the country, Kessler is compensated less than the employees who sell his jersey at the student bookstore.
This is because college athletes — sorry, “student-athletes” — are not employees, a bylaw that withstood legal scrutiny earlier this month when an effort by football players at Northwestern University to unionize was denied by the National Labor Relations Board, which cited that the competitive balance between public and private universities would be disturbed if athletes at private universities such as Northwestern were allowed to unionize.
But the right to unionize, and therefore collectively bargain for salaries as employees, should not be the issue at hand here. What’s absurd is how the NCAA has allowed the situation to get this far, forcing its athletes to take action.
The NCAA is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that just happens to be a billion-dollar industry, raking in $740 million per year from broadcasting rights for March Madness alone. According to U.S. News, the NCAA generates $11 billion in revenue annually, with 50 colleges exceeding $50 million in annual revenue. While many schools claim they failed to turn a profit, it is only because they spend exorbitant amounts of revenue on assets such as facilities, equipment and coaches.
Nick Saban of Alabama is the highest-paid coach in college football, making $7.2 million a year, while Jim Harbaugh jumped ship from the NFL to Michigan for a cool $7 million a year. And yet NCAA president Mark Emmert still has the nerve to say that sports are “anything but a money-making proposition for universities and colleges.”
If that is the case, then it is peculiar why, as of 2014, college coaches are the highest-paid public employees in 40 states. Emmert claims that only 14 out of 1,100 schools in 2010 profited from athletics. But if true profits are the only benefit universities receive, then schools should just eliminate all athletics.
It would be naïve to believe a word Emmert says, just as it would be foolish to think that the “student” part actually comes first for “student-athletes.” Along with the NLRB’s ruling regarding Northwestern came interesting anecdotes about the life of a college football player at the university. The schedule is akin to a full-time job, with 40 to 50 hours a week devoted to football-related activities during the regular season and set itineraries for up to 16 hours a day. Road games mean spending upwards of 24 hours on football activities on Friday and Saturday alone. Coaches further the mentality that academics are not a top priority; for example, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald allows players to spend two to three hours a day studying as long as they “get their mind right to get ready to play.”
It would be unfair to generalize this situation to every other school in the country, but if Northwestern, which hasn’t finished first in the Big-10 since 2000, demands so much from its athletes, imagine what the itineraries look like at perennial powerhouses such as Ohio State or Alabama.
The NCAA claims that they are providing athletes with compensation through free education, but that is difficult for the athletes to actually take advantage of when much of their days are spent on the practice field. The University of North Carolina answered that question when its student-athletes were enrolled in so-called “paper classes” and given improper treatment by faculty just so they could stay eligible to compete.
Cody Kessler will have a fine career in the NFL and make millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals. However, per the NCAA, he is among the 1.6 percent of college football players who go pro.
Thus, for the majority of student-athletes — the not-so-lucky ones — who struggle to balance academics with athletics and have little chance of playing the sport professionally, they must submit to a strict, exhaustive lifestyle in order to keep their scholarship — a scholarship that focuses more on being an athlete than a student.