March Madness: The debate to pay poor college athletes continues as institutions gain billions

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    (MintPress) – Hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising revenue will pour into (CBS) as a result of this year’s men’s college basketball tournament, commonly referred to as “March Madness.” Last year’s tournament brought in $613 million in advertising to the broadcast company, second only to the Super Bowl. But the athletes responsible for the spectacle receive no financial gain from the contracts, and in fact often live below the federal poverty line.

    That ad revenue also means big things for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), as the NCAA has over a decade-long television contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting System to the tune of around $771 million per year to air the tournament. Smart Money reports that 80 percent of the NCAA’s total revenue came from rights fees to its annual basketball tournament.

    College football is also a cash mogul on the college athletics landscape. In 2010, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) – widely regarded as the mecca of college football – grossed over one billion dollars in athletic receipts. The revenue accounts for merchandise, concession and ticket sales, as well as television contracts and advertising revenue.

    But as it turns out, the average college student-athlete, whose value to an institution can be worth well over $100,000, and even upwards of $500,000 at the largest athletic programs, lives under the federal poverty line.

    Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association (NCPA), and Drexel sports management professor Ellen J. Staurowsky compiled a detailed report of the issue called “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport.” The research argues that college athletes should receive living expenses outside their scholarship because the totality of their performance is what draws the spectacle that CBS and the NCAA collect from.

    The research examined student-athletes in the United States, but also focused on players at the largest school basketball programs in the country, and players you’re most likely to see in the “March Madness” basketball tournament. Huma and Staurowsky found that players in elite Division-I programs can be worth up to one million dollars and still not make a penny from the profits generated by their games.

    “Basketball players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $620k-$1 million in 2009-10. The top spot was held by Duke basketball players. While 80% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty and with an average scholarship shortfall of $3098 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $2.5 million in 2010 excluding bonuses,”  the study said.


    Handcuffed by rules

    The NCAA bans student-athletes from receiving handouts from anyone other than family. Over the years, athletes have been suspended for accepting groceries, money and rental cars.

    “The student-athlete shall not receive any extra benefit. The term ‘extra benefit’ refers to any special arrangement by an institutional employee or representative of that institutions athletics interest to provide the student-athlete or his or her relatives or friends with a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation,” according to the NCAA Division I Manual.

    This rule is what inspired Huma to take action and be the voice for student-athletes. Huma was a linebacker for the University of California at Las Angeles (UCLA) in the mid-1990s and experienced the pinch student-athletes felt with living expenses on a day-to-day basis. Huma said he had to charge all of the expenses for his necessities, which left him with ample amounts of debt after graduation.

    “It came down to a struggle at times for basic necessities,” Huma said in an interview with MintPress. “By the time I finished my full scholarship, I had thousands of dollars in credit card debt.”

    Huma’s inspiration to launch NCPA came after fellow teammate and former National Football League (NFL) linebacker Donnie Edwards was suspended for accepting groceries from his agent. Huma sympathized with Edwards’ situation, as the amount of food provided by the school was burned up by athletes in prime physical condition, leaving them hungry.

    “At the time Donnie was suspended I had lost 15 pounds myself,” Huma said. “When you’re on campus you get a meal card for three meals a day, which for most people is fine, but for athletes who are burning thousands of calories a day, it wasn’t enough.”

    Since then, Huma has pushed for an informed student-athlete that realizes a full academic scholarship does not mean all expenses are covered. Huma said that once student-athletes get in a tight enough pinch financially, that’s when scandals are reported on.

    Reports like those of Troy Smith commonly surface weeks to years after the matter. Smith was quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes and widely considered one of the best players in the country. In 2004, Smith accepted $500 from a booster that set off a snowball effect for the university. Scandals such as the one accepted by Smith have become a commonality in college athletics, with schools, players and coaches received punishments.

    “At the very least they (student-athletes) should be informed,” Huma said. “But if justice is going to be served they should have scholarships that actually cover the expenses just like a full academic scholarship.”

    And it’s unlikely for a major student-athlete to hold a job. Huma says the amount of time put in to athletics at the Division I level is far too great for a student-athlete to consider working and attending class altogether.

    “They don’t have enough time to work; an NCAA study showed that major college football and basketball players spend 40 hours in their sport a week alone, so there’s aren’t many good options for these guys,” Huma said.

    Part 2 of this story can be found here.

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