There is a cowardly silence buffering the NCAA from opposition these days. That silence comes from players and parents of the student-athletes who understand the unbalance that keeps billions in the NCAA’s pockets while student-athletes are left to their books, practice, and game day performance. The opposition happens to be anyone who understands business and the focus on a certain demographic when establishing college sports teams. The worse part of the issue starts with this article. Coaches, players, and most parents would agree that there should be some type of compensation for student-athletes outside of their scholarship coverage. But with the NCAA holding a coarse whip, most staff members within athletic programs along with the athletes who they coach or oversee are obligated to remain silent. That is if they want to maintain their jobs or in the athlete’s case, their position on their respective squad. In short no one wants to get “Kaepernicked.” What may seem like a more political term describing what happens when someone speaks out against the establishment, is actually becoming a common phrase especially in sports. But as we review some of the details of what is taking place behind the “iron curtain” known as the NCAA, it’s easy to see why silence may be the only option for anyone who feels compensation is due to the student-athlete.
The facts are right in our face. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar industry with its two main bread winners being college football and basketball. We don’t need to delve too far into the exact per game numbers but the final totals from the college football playoffs alone topped $650 million. For the fact-finding types these figures were from Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. But you can go without a bona fide source and just use common sense to the obviousness of it all. Between team branding, endorsements, and television rights it doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out the size of the piggy bank that the circle of control maintains.
A follow up question to these facts that any pundit would ask is would it really hurt those in control to give the student-athlete that plays the actual game one to two million bucks to split amongst each other. Of course it wouldn’t. And not to point out one coach and program in particular but any college sports fan would agree that the Alabama Crimson Tide synonymous with college football. And those fans would also agree that if it were not for retaining some of the best athletes on this planet, Alabama would not be the dynasty program that many have come to love. In the offseason of 2017 after a tremendous season ending in a national championship loss to Clemson, head coach Nick Saban signed one of the biggest contracts for a coach in sports history. Saban’s contract will pay him $65 million plus incentives from now until 2025 under a new contract extension. Of course there is nothing wrong with someone earning their keep and if there is any coach on the college sports scene that has proven himself it’s Nick Saban. But there is still an issue. One man. One fat check. 90 plus student-athletes. School books, dorm room/apartment, three hot meals, and an optional four year education. Maybe to some this is fair but if there isn’t at least one red flag going off in the reader’s head, that head should be examined for pockets of gullibility. Side note. The person owning that head unfortunately may have the wherewithal of a “sucka’ mc.” But I digress. Let’s not bring this topic to a close without pointing out the brief ripple in the water that was brought about by a former Northwestern football player. Kain Colter led a small group that had the sole aim of creating a labor union for players. The case went all the way up to the supreme court but eventually ended up being merely a ruffling of the feathers. You do have to appreciate the young men who took on this project. At best they have enough knowledge and assertiveness to try and bring some type of compensation to the young men and women on the playing field. At the least they have the intestinal fortitude that it takes to be heard in such a vast area where skills in the classroom take a backseat to skills on game day.
A great question to ask is what can be done about all of this. A great answer to that question would be nothing. At least not for another season or two. Could the NCAA pay student-athletes? Of course. Is there enough “green pie” to go around. Obviously. But in the end who has the desire to show up to the table of the great cabal of “masters” and ask for a few more crumbs only to be frowned upon and possibly be removed from the scene known as college sports. As Gordon Gekko so eloquently puts it, “Greed is good.” Love it or hate it but in the end…it is what it is.