Last night at the gym, I pedeled furiously on the exercise bike watching the tail end of a pretty bad national championship game. UNC emerged victorious, which is somewhat embarrassing for college hoops, given revelations of fake classes and other academic misconduct involving UNC’s football and basketball programs. As Michael Kinsley would say, the real scandal is what’s legal. These players should be paid.
Last year, the NCAA received about $1 billion in revenue from various March Madness media rights, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and more. The elite players who create this product receive college scholarships, but they are not paid anything near the economic value they create for others, most especially including their own coaching staffs. About 100 players per year from around the world enter the NBA every year, usually for a brief stint. Most high school and college basketball stars never make it. Some use their scholarships and college connections to do well in life. Others are chewed up and spit out by the college athletic industrial complex without enough to show for the experience and physical toll these physical games can take.
There are several ways to address this problem. I’m intrigued by the radical possibility some court will simply rule that the NCAA has no authority to regulate player compensation. The NCAA should be entitled to ensure that athletes are bona fide students. Athletes’ financial arrangements should be set in a competitive market. After initial chaos, some equilibrium would emerge. Who knows what that would be.
A less radical solution would include greater revenue sharing between the NCAA and college players. The NCAA might, for example, set aside $100 million each year to buy a simple annuity for each athlete in the
top 64top 16 teams–pardon the error. That would provide each athlete with a lifetime income of about $22,000 per year.
That wouldn’t make these athletes rich. It would provide a platform of basic economic security for these
832 208 young people, and provide them with the resources they might need to pursue further education once their athletic careers are done. The money is there, and they’ve earned it.