College Football: Free Labor With A Jersey Number and A Scholarship
By: Ryan Fremeau
College football players get hit repeatedly for three hours, every week, for 27 weeks, and have an annual salary of $0. The average college football assistant coach makes $200,000 per year without getting hit once. It is against the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for college athletes to be paid or to receive gifts but they make nearly $1 billion per year based off of the talents of these young adults. Its true that many football players attend college on a full scholarship but their “free” education is only a façade, and the provisions are not adequate enough to cover the cost of college. College football players deserve to be paid for their hard work and performance.
As mentioned, the average college football assistant coach makes $200,000 per year but top coaches make significantly more than that, like Alabama’s Nick Saban who had a 7 million dollar salary in 2015. The hypocrisy of one coach making 7 million dollars and his team of 100 football players making a combined $0 is blinding. The National College Players Association (NCPA) did a recent study that found that 85% of full-scholarship athletes live below the poverty line. This “business model”, as some call it, is not unlike slavery. The comparison may be slightly overstated at times but college athletics certainly have similarities to the days of plantations. The students play football like million dollar athletes and get paid nothing, and the higher ups are made rich off of marketing this free labor to the public. The coaches are not the only ones profiting off the backs of these student-athletes. The most recent numbers available for the NCAA are from 2011-2012 where the non-profit organization brought in $871.6 million dollars in revenue.
The idea of a free college education is what drives most arguments about refusing to pay NCAA athletes. The NCAA promotes student-athletes as just that, students before they are athletes. The idea is wonderful and pleasant. Students come to college on a full-ride and they get the opportunity to enjoy all the benefits for free and hey, they might even get a little recognition. Higher-level education is extremely valuable in building a future and there are many unique experiences that students would not have without the opportunity to attend college. However, the education that athletes receive is merely for show when they are routinely taken out of class for televised games. On average, student-athletes will spend over 40 hours per week in practices, meetings, traveling, playing games, training, etc. On top of just playing their sport, they are required to have a full load of classes, which equates to at least 30 hours of school related activity a week. If the classes took position over the sports this might be able to work out, however coaches are known to punish players if they miss team meetings for class or even sit players out for the whole season if they want to take classes that interfere in any way with the athletic schedule. This raises the question of whether student-athletes are really students first, or if that is just the act played in front of an audience.
There is currently a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina and the NCAA from two former student-athletes saying that the school failed to provide a proper education to scholarship athletes. The lawsuit outlines a trend of “paper classes”, or fake classes, from 1989-2011. In those classes “[students were] not required to attend, required little to no work, and involved no interaction with a faculty member.” The students whom were cited in the lawsuit attended classes titled “Contemporary Africa” and “Topics in AFAM study” and were unaware that the classes were academically unsound. They also claim that the NCAA has been aware of dozens of cases of academic fraud and that they disproportionately affect minority college athletes. This lawsuit is still ongoing but others who have experienced the same academic injustice back these students.
Aside from the idea of school coming before the athletics that they were recruited to the university for, these students deserve pay. It is sometimes difficult to accept that some select people deserve compensation for something that many people partake in but that is a fact. Playing sports is a large part of the typical American childhood. Everyone has their stories about little league, but college athletics are something different. This is a nearly billion-dollar business and these athletes are not average. They do not deserve to be paid because they are attending college; they deserve compensation for their remarkable talents expressed on the field. The idea of these students being special while also being regular struggling students like everyone else in college often evokes feelings of envy, which drives the defense of paying student-athletes. Remember that even the worst NFL corner you see on TV getting burned every week is still one of the best of the best.
Forming a plan to change the business model of the NCAA to pay players would be difficult, but not impossible. Many people would be asked to put their greed and envy off to the side and approach the situation from a humanitarian standpoint. These student-athletes literally put their body on the line and the NCAA and coaches profit from it. It is time to make progressive moves and grant these players the compensation they deserve.