If you wanted to attend the NCAA D1 Basketball Championship last year (and did not have good connections), you would have to pay on average $1096.09, and the cheapest ticket was listed at $256 on a ticket resale site (Lawrence, 2016, n.p.). To sit among a crowd of 74,340 fans.

Turner sports (including TBS, TNT and truTV) aired the finals and drew an average audience of 17.8 million viewers. CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting alone paid more than $10.8 billion back in 2010 for 14 years of rights to exclusively broadcast the championship game. (NCAA.com, 2010, n.p.).  According to a press release from Kantar Media (2016) the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship produced a record-setting $1.19 billion of TV ad spending. Coaches of the teams, Roy Wiliams of North Carolina and Jay Wright make a combined salary of $4.71 million a year.  (Burke, 2016, n.p.)

But this amateur basketball, and regardless of how many billions of dollars are made between the NCAA, its broadcasting partners and corporate partners, the players themselves make zero dollars.

The notion of paying college football and basketball players has been an ongoing debate for many years. NCAA Division 1 football in the United States is often televised and NCAA bowl games make millions of dollars for football programs every year. Similar revenue is made through March Madness for Division 1 college basketball. With this substantial amount of money being made for the respective sports programs at the schools that play in these competitions, there has been a push for compensating the athletes beyond their athletic scholarship. As spectators, the masses tend to view the athletes on the court simply as entertainers, rather than workers. Rarely do we question the consequences we do not see with student-athletes such as- inequality, uncertainty, and high amounts of debt. Is a scholarship enough compensation for challenges these students face- especially when sports often interfere with their education and there is a high chance of them being injured through their sport and losing that scholarship. In all, this is also an issue of class as many of the athletes come from underprivileged backgrounds and are making millions of dollars for their school, spending hundreds of hours on their sport and making no compensation in return- it is clearly a form of exploitation.

I would find it hard to believe any other profession would put up with this kind of exploitation. Being a student-athlete is virtually a full-time job. In a survey by football players in NCAA Division I Bowl Subdivision they reported they spend on average 44.8 hours a week on their sport. While Division I’s men’s basketball said they spent 33.9 hours on their sport (Wieberg, USA Today). This is not to mention the amount of time they must spend on their academics which was on average 35 hours a week.  With these numbers, we see that the average NCAA Division I athlete spends the equivalent (often more) of the typical American work week on their sport alone. They attend meetings, practices, play games, and train in the weight room to keep up with the requirements of their sport and then on top of all that are expected to keep up with their academics as well. They are working these long hours, completing very demanding tasks both mentally and physically, and generating billions of dollars for their efforts. Jay Bilas, an advocate paying student athletes, makes the comparison of collegiate sports to those of a child actor, giving the scenario if studios decided they were no longer going to pay child-actors. Instead, they will pay for their expenses and provide them with a tutor and make it a really good experience. And even if for example, your child is the star of huge Hollywood production, the studio says they are only willing to pay for expenses right now, and if they do a really good job and they become an adult they can get paid then. Many parents would be against this kind of reasoning, as most know that Hollywood is a multi-million dollar industry, and it would be unfair to use the talents of one child to profit off of with no monetary compensation in return.(Peebles, 2016, n.p.) It is virtually the same concept in college-sports, where students are performing on the court or field and receive 0% of the revenue. Even though, the only reason these programs are making money is because the students play. They spend countless hours to play their best for the team, but they receive no monetary compensation in return.

Currently, universities in the NCAA use the commercialization of their school’s sports program to generate revenue, increase visibility, recruit students and receive increased support from alumni. All of these benefits are very important to any university and creates an increased pressure to ensure that school does well in their athletics (Beamon, 2008, p. 353). Since having exceptional student athletes are key to ensuring success to the school’s athletic program- through raising the school’s profile and adding to the profitability, they are a great financial value to the university (p.353). There is a clear exploitation going on, where student-athletes are expected to work hard, have talent and be great in order to make money and other benefits for their school. I believe “exploitation” is the best term to use in this scenario as these young men are recruited and admitted to these institutions primarily because of their physical talent. According to Donnor (2005) African-American athletes that are in big money sports such as basketball and football “generate enough revenue to financially underwrite nonrevenue-producing athletic sports such as crew, swimming, tennis and golf that are overwhelmingly populated by white middle and upper class students” (p.48). This type of exploitation is reinforced in what Tompkins (2016) references in his article, “”A Postgame Interview for the Ages”: Richard Sherman and the Dialectical Rhetoric of Racial Neoliberalism.” Where he analyzes the articulations of race and power in the NFL. In this article he states “sports [serve] here as a site for “redeeming” blackness in relation to the glorified image of affirmative neoliberal self-reliance. These features, in turn, combine to promote a sense of “differential value-making” that works to confer privilege on some racial subjects while stigmatizing others.” (p.303) Here we see the focus is on using structural control over African-American athletes who often come from underprivileged backgrounds to fit into the dominant codes of society of emphasizing the idea that they should excel through their athletics. Here we see the class struggle where black student athletes are experiencing structural control over race and dominant ideologies that run through society and the media on how they should gain their value.  This is especially true of African-American athletes who have been shown to have higher expectations of “going pro” and have been especially socialized towards sports and embracing the athletic identity (Beamon & Bell, 2002, p.185).


We see a similar class struggle as discussed by Darby (2007), when he looked at “the role of football academies in the process as a form of neo-colonial exploitation and impoverishment of the developing world by the developed world” (p. 143). The African football players were brought over to Europe, as they had more money, and could pick up the best players for a low rate. Some of the issues that Darby outlines in this analysis of these athletes was the fact that there was the psychological harm if the player does not make it on a professional team such as not wanting to return home in fear of share. Also, not a lot of emphasis on academics which hurt a lot of graduates who do not make it. Darby concludes that, the unequal exchange ultimately hurts African football, while there are some benefits to academies the talent developed from them leaves and is not retained, therefore leaving them with many options outside of the sport. (2007, p. 156) The same inequality exists between student athletes who are not always properly geared for academic success. (Gerdy, 2000, p.168)  The athlete part of being a student-athlete usually comes first as they are required to miss classes for their sport or treated more leniently.

We also see a class struggle between student-athletes and regular students. As Seattle Seahawk’s Michael Bennet explained “When I was in college, I’d be going to class, some student comes to me and says ‘I pay your tuition.’ I’m like, you don’t pay my damn tuition. My mom paid my tuition when she worked two jobs, and I woke up every morning at 6 a.m. and I worked hard.” Many college-division players tell their stories of how they come from modest backgrounds and plan to make money through their sport. Many students only go to school, because it is the only avenue to get to the professional level. When schools say they pay them through a scholarship, that money is transferred from the athletic department to the school. So it is basically the school paying itself. The school has absolutely nothing to lose in this situation, but a lot to profit off of the free labour of student athletes who work countless hours to get where they are.


Parent (2004) lists his idea of some remedies to this issue of paying student-athletes. One he suggests is “student-athletes must earn their degrees to receive the benefit of the bargain” (p.249). By this, Parent discusses the issue that a lot of student-athletes are denied compensation, since they are paid through an academic scholarship and a true academic experience. The problems with this is that many students are given preferential academic treatment. (p.249).  There have been many examples of students given leniency in their academics, such as former Ohio State star running back, Maurice Clarett, who was given oral examinations, rather than more demanding written tests, in an introductory African Studies class. (Freeman, 2003). There is a clear imbalance here, where many student athletes must compete at the collegiate level in order to make it to the professional level (which many are striving to do), but are not well-equipped to succeed in college. By making it “easier” for them the institutions are not helping them be better prepared for life outside football, or preparing them for options if they do not make it at the professional level. Another solution I thought of, is to simply pay the athletes. I am not saying make them millionaires, but I believe paying them is only fair in relation to how much time and energy they put into making money for their school. A lot of student-athletes simply want to make it at the professional level to make great financial success. If they cannot do that at the collegiate level, how do you expect them to stay and finish their degree when they will have greater comfort at the professional level.

Overall, since student-athletes are working a typical work week type hours for the school, and generating revenue for them they are, in my opinion, employees of the institution. By not paying them, it shows the power imbalance between those at the top of the institution who are benefiting off the talents and work of those who are referred to as “amateurs.” By not paying them, the athletes are being exploited and not given proper compensation for the labour that goes into generating the amount of benefits they do for the school. By paying the athletes it would perhaps keep them in school longer, bringing the focus back on education, make the sports more competitive and still generate money for the NCAA. The NCAA is a monopoly and can afford to do the right thing by paying the players.

Beamon, K. (2008). “Used Goods”: Former African American College Student-Athletes’ Perception of Exploitation by Division I Universities. The Journal of Negro Education, 77(4), 352-364.

Beamon, K., & Bell, P. (2002). Going pro: The differential effects of high aspirations for a professional sports career on African-American student-athletes and White student-athletes. Race and Society, 5, 179-191.

Darby, P., Akindes, G., & Kirwin, M. (2007). Football academies and the migration of African football labor to Europe. Journal of Sport & Social Issues31(2), 143-161

Donnor*, J. K. (2005). Towards an interest‐convergence in the education of African‐American football student athletes in major college sports. Race Ethnicity and Education8(1), 45-67.

Gerdy, J. R. (2000). Sports in school: The future of an institution. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lawrence, J. (2016, March 31). How Much Will it Cost to Attend the 2016 Final Four? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-lawrence/how-much-will-it-cost-to-_b_9582984.html

CBS Sports, Turner Broadcasting, NCAA Reach 14-Year Agreement. (2010, April 22). Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/2010-04-21/cbs-sports-turner-broadcasting-ncaa-reach-14-year-agreement

March Madness TV Ads Have Generated $8.2 Billion In Revenue Since 2006. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.kantarmedia.com/us/newsroom/press-releases/march-madness-tv-ads-have-generated-8-billion-in-revenue-since-2006

Burke, K. (2016, March 22). The real March Madness is how much money the coaches get paid for each win. Retrieved from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/john-calipari-is-paid-29444-per-win-while-this-coach-makes-just-500-2016-03-17

Wieberg, S. (2008, January 13). Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/2008-01-12-athletes-full-time-work-study_N.htm

Freeman, M. (2003, July 13). When Values Collide: Clarett Got Unusual Aid in Ohio State Class. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/13/sports/colleges-when-values-collide-clarett-got-unusual-aid-in-ohio-state-class.html

Peebles, M. (2015, December 3). 7 Common Sense Reasons Why College Athletes Should Be Paid (According to Jay Bilas)Nobody would put up with this in any other walk of life. Retrieved from http://ca.complex.com/sports/2015/12/jay-bilas-interview/nobody-would-put-up-with-this

Parent, C. M. (2003). Forward Progress-An Analysis of Whether Student-Athletes Should Be Paid. Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal3, 226.