It's that time of year again.
We are less than a month away from the start up of a new season of NCAA athletics. The summer heat is in full effect, vacation time is winding down, and on August 1st student athletes across the nation will report back to their respective plantations.
You see, I was one of those guys who enjoyed watching collegiate athletics exponentially more than professional sports for a long time. No matter if it was the unmatched atmosphere of college football, the excitement of March Madness, or the ping off the bat in the College World Series, college sports just felt different.
Then I found out that Santa Clause wasn't real. I learned about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I found out about the multi billion dollar television exclusivity contracts, the half-billion dollar payout to college football teams during the bowl seasons, the nearly 40 million dollars in revenue the University of Kentucky basketball program raked in on the backs of its players for reaching the Final 4. I looked at the packed football stadiums in Michigan, College Station, Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge that hold nearly a hundred thousand rabid fans every week. Then I looked at the players. I witnessed a group of young men and women were not only denied the right to be properly compensated for the amount of revenue the NCAA, various athletic conferences, and individual universities brought in annually, but who were also denied the opportunity to gain any source of outside income. They couldn't get a part time job. They can't sell their own property. Most surprisingly, they don't even own the rights to their own image. The perpetration of a free labor market was orchestrated by billionaires covered by a cloak of "amateurism".
In every measure of the matter, collegiate athletes are chattel. A university can sell autographed memorabilia of a particular player to raise money to pay the coach, but a player can't sell his own signature to raise money to feed himself. They justify this free labor market by proclaiming that his compensation is a "free education", however millions of other students gain access to higher education across the country based off of their talents in academics and nobody limits their income potential. They continue, "but they are getting room and board" as if that constitutes that all their essential needs are being met. Apparently if massa would have provided slaves on the plantation with the opportunity to learn to read, you could also assert that they were getting food, a place to lay their heads, and a "free education". Even convicts get 3 hots and a cot, plus an opportunity for a free education while locked up in penitentiaries.
In each instance (slavery, prisons, and collegiate sports) you have three entities: the institutions, the facilitators, and the laborers. The median salary for head coaches of Division 1 collegiate football programs in 2014 was $1.5 Million dollars. The SEC, the nations preeminent football conference dishes out its head coaches an average of $3.7 mil. with Alabama's Nick Saban bringing in a national-best $7.1 million. Not too shabby for a group of southern overseers. The NCAA itself brings in nearly a billion dollars annually. In 2008, the SEC signed a contract with ESPN that will net the conference 2.25 Billion dollars to display the athletic abilities of their prized possessions. The Pac 12, Big 10, and Universities of Texas and Notre Dame have similar exclusivity contracts. It seems like the only ones not benefiting are the ones actually putting in work on the field. Sound familiar?
Just to ensure the money continues to pour in, they institute a minimum period of servitude. The NCAA and NBA agreed upon a one year minimum transition period for those seeking to get paid for their talents, essentially creating the "one and done" phenomenon and nullifying the once-boasted compensation of a "free education". Now that player have began to take advantage of the one year stint in the halfway house of college basketball, universities are lobbying to increase the mandatory minimum to three years, effectively allowing the NCAA and schools to capitalize on the players free labor until they are legally able to drink. College football mandates athletes remain on campus for three years before declaring themselves eligible for the draft. Challenges to the system were met with immediate push back, claiming player safety as the primary reason for the requirement. Remember the names Maurice Clarett? Mike Williams?
The NCAA will do whatever it takes to maintain a grasp on their most prized possessions. Today, less than a month away from the start of fall practices, the institution is already banking on their investments, and another billion dollars will be made on the backs of unpaid labor. And who are the laborers? In the money making collegiate sports, African Americans make up the majority of participants and when you take in consideration those skilled enough to make it to the next level, those majorities jump to super-majorities. It seems as if the institution known as the NCAA is making a business out of denying minorities the access to financial opportunities.