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NCAA prez addresses ‘exploitation’ of student-athletes

Mark Emmert AP

Early this morning we noted that former North Carolina defensive back Deunta Williams, when he wasn’t accusing the SEC of paying for football players, took issue with what he described as “a broken system” as it relates to the NCAA and collegiate athletics.

“College football is a business, and the people who run college football are only interested in money and using the players as product to make money,” Williams was quoted as saying.

The thinly-veiled inference, of course, is that the NCAA uses “student-athletes” for their financial gain, a form of exploitation if you will.

Obviously, the leaders of intercollegiate sports vehemently disagree with that assessment.  During an interview with Bob Ley on ESPN’s Outside the Lines Tuesday afternoon, NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed the criticism college sports has come under in relation to the financial benefits realized by the universities and how precious little is funneled back to the individuals who are actually responsible for the on-field work that’s made the game, in the case of football, the second most popular sport in the country.

Here’s the transcript of Emmert’s interview, courtesy of PFT‘s Mike Florio (yes, you read that correctly).

I’ll tell you the critique that I agree with, and the critique [is] that there’s such an emphasis in America on athletics as a route to fame and fortune that it has skewed far too many young people’s view of how you can be successful as a young person. 

We surveyed our Division II NCAA men’s basketball players.  Division II.  Half of them believed they were going to make a living in professional basketball.  Maybe one will.  But half of them thought they might make a living as a basketball player. 

We have far too few young people realizing that the route to success in life is to get a good education in middle school, high school, and college, and then go on and do all the things that people do in life.  When we see a young person getting an opportunity to go to college, the $2 billion — second only to the federal government — the total amount of financial aid that’s proposed by NCAA institutions to young people, we see young people having higher graduation rates in Divisions I, II, and III than the rest of the student body, we see them having access to the best coaches, the best educators, the best trainers, the best tutors that help produce academic success like that.  If that’s the definition of exploitation, then I don’t know what exploitation is. 

I would have loved to have my kids exploited like that.  I would love to have been exploited like that myself as a young man.  The idea that somehow playing in front of a stadium with 70,000 people and being on ESPN SportsCenter diminishes you in some fashion while creating an opportunity for you to be known world-wide is somehow exploitation is a curious notion of exploitation.  I think the vast majority of your audience would love to be on this show, would love to have a chance to have their name known widely. 

If you want to be a professional athlete, there’s no better way to do it than to come to a high-level collegiate program, get the best trainers, best exposure, best coaches, best educational opportunities, and then go out and pursue your career.  To me, that’s a pretty good opportunity.

As Florio adroitly noted in our email exchange, Emmert starts off by claiming that there is too much emphasis on athletics as a route to fame and fortune, and then ends by stating (contradicting himself?) that the NCAA doesn’t exploit athletes because it provides a route to fame and fortune at the professional sports level for a select few.  Of course, all of this talk of exploitation and financial aid and pretty good opportunities boils down to one core issue: paying student-athletes for services rendered on the playing field.

The proposed $2,000 stipend, which has met stiff resistance from several corners of the collegiate sports world, is a fair-to-middlin’ start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.  At bare minimum, and as we’ve stated ad nauseam in the past, players should receive a portion of the profits earned by a football program for the sale of jerseys and the like as well as a percentage of the profits from video games that utilize their likenesses in lieu of their names.  That’s the bare minimum, and you can adjust your financial mileage accordingly.

The value of the education the players are receiving — or have the opportunity to receive if they choose to take advantage of the six-figure gift — should not be underscored, but neither should the value of their numbers and likenesses and such.  While we don’t foresee a day, at least in the near future and as long as Title IX is the law of the land, where student-athletes essentially become paid employees of a university, there will at some point be a tipping point on the financial landscape as it relates to athletics at the collegiate level.

In fact, a four-letter word from the NCAA’s point of view — “union” — is already being bandied about as a potential remedy to the perceived inequities of the current system.

It would thus behoove the leaders of today to get ahead of that point and prepare for something that is inevitable somewhere down the road.

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20 Responses to “NCAA prez addresses ‘exploitation’ of student-athletes”
  1. thepancreas says: Mar 13, 2012 5:53 PM

    You can not pay players. Period. Any suggestion of it is silly. Do you realize the legal liability issues that you will open the moment you decide to pay college football players any kind of income outside of the subsidy already being considered?

    How much are you going to pay a woman’s basketball player? or a woman’s tennis player? Or a woman’s soccer player at a strong program like UNC?

    Because if you think Title IX caused issues—just wait until you try and pay men’s football and basketball players, and don’t offer the same compensation for female athletes.

    Oh, and the moment you pay football players–they become “employees” and worker’s compensation, professional injury liability, and pension plans are on the table.

    Think before you post “players should be paid”, because it isn’t that easy.

  2. atxcane says: Mar 13, 2012 6:02 PM

    +1 pancreas. Paying players opens up a HUGE can of worms. You really have to think this through thoroughly before suggesting it.

    Unless you’re going to put details on how this could be achieved in the legal framework, you’re just being a lazy loudmouth.

  3. atxcane says: Mar 13, 2012 6:03 PM

    Added for clarity: “you” refers to anyone calling for player pay, not ‘thepancreas’.

  4. mhalt99 says: Mar 13, 2012 6:15 PM

    It is coming. Someday, we will look back on this as one of the greatest exploitations of human capital. Of course women’s basketball and tennis will not be paid, just as male gymnasts and baseball players will not be paid. Mens football and basketball is revenue generating. They will be paid in the future.

    Is there any other business or industry in history that has gotten away without paying their workers for this long? An education is great, but for some of the players it is a worthless piece of paper if they even get it. Others may actually be being robbed of learning technical or trade schools that they could be doing to prepare for their future.

    And yes, it of course will be put into a legal framework. The Sports Business journal did a piece on this a few years ago and forecasted it would most likely come from a court case. It seems as if many of our higher powered judges have come from Harvard or Yale in the 60’s when the schools still were 1A and dominant – they can’t understand the money of the system…..the article went on to explain as the newer generation of supreme court judges begins to enter service they will of course understand the exploitation and rule in their favor.

  5. papabush88 says: Mar 13, 2012 6:32 PM

    Good point, pancreas and atxcane. However, I think people are missing the big point. One of two things must be done: Pay players OR Don’t penalize schools for a player taking contributions or charity (with the latter being the one that should exist). Yes, creating college athletes into employees WILL be a difficult and messy deal. However, why does a rule exist that a person can’t give gifts to a kid? It is ridiculous. Who cares if some rich booster or some agent gives money in some fashion to a college player? I love the USC Trojans. Grown up in a family of Trojans and then recently graduated from USC. But I am not about to give money to any particular USC athlete. Why have college sports become the one area in this country where giving someone a charitable gift is illegal? You’re probably worse off giving a homeless person cash (he may buy booze or drugs) than a college player (except for TCU football players). Seriously though, most of these kids come from poor backgrounds and-in college football-are forced to stay for 3 years before they become eligible for the NFL draft. And those same kids, due to their skills of the game, could make it in the NFL after zero or maybe 1 year of college. So, paying players is not the first option. However, charitable contributions (or as NCAA calls it, improper benefits) should not be outlawed. The “land of opportunity” has put a specific limit on pursuing a job as a professional athlete. This is where the NCAA needs reform.

  6. Deb says: Mar 13, 2012 6:45 PM

    The argument against paying these kids always comes back to Title IX, and that’s a perversion of what Title IX was intended to do. The first and best way to begin dealing with these issues, as noted in the article, is with merchandising. When a program generates revenue from player-related merchandise sales, players should receive a portion of those profits. If your women’s basketball jersey didn’t generate revenue, there’s no reason for you to receive a piece of that pie.

    It’s frustrating for football fans that they can’t buy jerseys with their favorite college players’ names on the back. And that’s solely because the NCAA doesn’t want to make the merchandising exploitation anymore obvious than it is. Put the players’ names on the jerseys and give them a cut of the profits.

    As for kids having unrealistic dreams of fame and fortune … that’s not unique to sports. You see it every week on American Idol and all the other talent-based reality series. Even among the winners, few become household names. But all those who make it through the first round of auditions are convinced they’ve caught the gravy train.

  7. rolltide510 says: Mar 13, 2012 6:54 PM

    They already are paid. College is expensive, and they get it for free. If you say this is somehow insignificant, I say your parents must have paid for your college.

  8. papabush88 says: Mar 13, 2012 6:55 PM

    Well said, Deb.

    Additionally, as I said before, what’s the difference if a generous person came up to me on the street and said, “Here’s $5,000 for your family” vs a booster that goes to a college athlete and says, “Here’s $5 grand. It’s for you and your family.” ?????????????

  9. suprmous says: Mar 13, 2012 8:08 PM

    There’s no nice way to say this and before you come at me with your hackles up and tail feathers ruffled Deb you should know your facts. Yes there are some being paid already. Case in point when the older brother was playin at Bama I happen to know for a fact that one of the players had been given a very expensive car to drive, expensive clothes to wear, along with a unlimited tab that at the end of the month he submitted to a booster and his wife for payment. This particular kid didn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of before goin to Bama. As long as there’s those boosters that will pay there’s goin to be those who’ll take and just as those there’s those atheletic depts who never get caught /or never have anything to say. It’s a damned shame that the ADs control the programs a lot of the time and even control the coach. All of this is so damned political till you’d think it was more like National Politics than a sport.

  10. Deb says: Mar 13, 2012 8:23 PM

    @suprmous …

    I don’t know what you’re talking about regarding coming at you with my hackles up. I’ve told you a thousand times now that I have no personal issue with you. If you post something I disagree with … I’ll disagree. It’s a football blog. That’s what we do here. But it’s not personal. You’re free to disagree with me as well.

    Yes, of course we all “know” pay-for-play exists at all these schools, including Alabama and LSU–and schools in other conferences. I say we “know” that because we’re just assuming. We can’t prove it. You’re aware of what went on with your brother’s friend (second-hand), but that was then. You can’t prove anything about any players now. You haven’t mentioned how long ago your brother played for Alabama. I’d be curious to know that because I think pay-for-play was more blatant during the SMU heydays of the late 1980s–more out front back then. Now I think it’s more under the table. But I’m not naive; we all know these things are happening … everywhere.

    But even though some players receive illegal benefits, I still believe all players are entitled to a portion of the profits from their merchandise sales … which is the topic under discussion.

  11. suprmous says: Mar 13, 2012 8:36 PM

    First and foremost the brother played back during the 70s only to go from Bama to the Pros. And no it wasn’t second hand re what I said. To this day the guy’s still “smart” enuff to brag about what went on plus as recent as a couple of years he had a tragedy to happen within his family and his benifactors paid for that. He himself had played Pro for a few years and why he couldn’t do what needed to be done durin the tragedy’s beyond me but that’s neither here or there. All I know is I know my facts whereas you suggest it’s gossip.

  12. iplaybad says: Mar 13, 2012 9:22 PM

    The problem with the “they get a free education” argument is that scholarships are not guaranteed in revenue sports. So, a guy gets a year to year setup when it will take him at least 3-5 years to complete the academic part of the program.

    The other issue is that even the $50k in “compensation” doesn’t even come close to matching what he earns the school and conference. But, yeah… getting the chance to play without a comparable return, working your ass off while risking injury to pay for other people’s educations, and having no guarantee of academic completion all sound great.

  13. swu32733 says: Mar 13, 2012 10:43 PM

    If these poor “student athletes” are so exploited why do they do it? The overwhelming majority will never play beyond the college level. Should you be of the opinion they are toiling for naught then I suggest you have not recently endured the economic trauma of having paid for a college education. Not to mention the tutors,plush dorms,excellent facilities and adulation. Most college students working drive thru windows etc would love to be so exploited. I submit that most of these idolized academic lightweights are overpaid.Give me a break.

  14. Deb says: Mar 13, 2012 10:48 PM

    @suprmous …

    I wasn’t suggesting it was gossip. The term “second-hand” meant that it didn’t happen to you or your brother personally, which would have meant you had first-hand knowledge. If you don’t see or experience something for yourself, it’s automatically second-hand knowledge. That’s not an insult; it’s just how information is characterized. BTW, the more the guy brags about what he got, the less I’d believe him. :)

    You probably know from your brother that NFL players weren’t paid much during the 1970s–particularly if it was during the very early 1970s and they weren’t star players. That’s probably why this guy didn’t have much money left from his pro days. Some players during that era didn’t make $20,000 a year.

  15. 78lion says: Mar 14, 2012 8:47 AM

    Paying the players a paltry sum during their years playing for an institution does nothing but further exploit them.

    You want to create value for the player. Provide enough tools and demand, as a condition of playing, that these kids use the tools to get an quality education.

    Exploitation does exist by coaches that run off players and funnel them into basketweaving classes.

    The 4 year scholarship is a good start, but it won’t stop coaches from running off the less talented players on the roster.

  16. burntorangehorn says: Mar 14, 2012 2:58 PM

    Deb, that’s ridiculous to give players a cut of the profits from jersey or other memorabilia sales, because it is an amateur sport. Giving stipends across the board is fine, but professionalizing them creates far more problems than most people realize. Beyond that, it’s not like the current players are the ones who built the brand; that’s something the universities and their past players, coaches, administrators, etc. did. The players are contributing to the brand, and the brand is contributing to the players in the form of opportunity for education and success. If the argument is that the educational opportunity isn’t enough, because players are actually there to play football instead of get degrees, then one should actually be arguing for stricter academic progress and degree legitimacy standards.

    Title IX isn’t suffering perversion when applied to rationalize not paying players; it’s actually serving its intended function, which was to prevent the money sports from completely marginalizing the non-revenue sports, i.e. women’s sports. The verbiage says, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” Based on that, you can see that simply going the route of the unfettered capitalist market with memorabilia, and giving the student-athletes a cut, clearly doesn’t comply with Title IX. Sure the reason would be the the market itself, because people would be buying memorabilia for football players rather than women’s basketball players (maybe not at UConn or Tennessee…), but the market isn’t an except for which Title IX provides.

  17. Deb says: Mar 14, 2012 4:57 PM

    @burntorangehorn …

    You could say the same about pro teams. Am I buying a Polamalu jersey because of Troy or because the Steelers organization won me long ago? I’ve been buying jerseys of Steeler defenders forever. On the other hand, I was born into an Alabama family, but never even thought about buying a player jersey until Mark Ingram. And that was definitely about Mark Ingram.

    Intellectually, I understand what you’re saying about amateur athletics, etc. But Tyrone Prothro was a Bama receiver with a surefire pro career in front of him … until he suffered a Theismanlike leg break in his last year when he shouldn’t have even been in the game. He’s part of a group of players suing for rights to profit from his own image. Shula was the coach then and Alabama is still profiting from sales of Prothro DVDs and memorabilia … while he works as a bank teller. That’s just not right.

    As for Title IX, I don’t believe revenue-generating athletes should be denied their due because of non-revenue-generating athletes. Title IX was designed to ensure women had equal opportunity to participate in sports–which they have. That doesn’t mean if a male football player sells a jersey, a female gymnast should get a cut.

  18. bfloyd6277 says: Mar 15, 2012 3:15 AM

    Ok just to let you know about Tyrone Prothro; he was a good player with a big heart. He was not NFL bound like you think. He may have been about like Marquis Maze; small, quick, strong pound for pound, and not scared of hitting anyone. He broke his leg his junior year, not his senior year. He still completed his degree. He got his payment for playing college football. Alabama doesn’t owe him anything. As a matter of fact Prothro never paid for a doctor bill, as he shouldn’t have to, but some colleges and coaches could have dropped the ball after the initial surgeries. I am not sure to the extent of those laws.

    Just because he is a bank teller now doesn’t mean anything different from whether he should get royalties. The lawsuit you are refering to is actually with Daniel Moore and his painting “The Catch,” which Bama is in a lawsuit with the same person over the same thing. It isn’t against Bama, it is alongside Bama.

    However, back to the subject. I believe that student athletes should not be paid. It will get out of control with recruiting when that starts because the smaller schools cannot afford what the big schools can. There are only so many schools that make profits on their sports.

    I do believe that a student athlete should get a full ride and not pay for anything out of pocket from him or parents, along with the stipend. An athlete has no chance of having a job. It isn’t fair a kid comes to a great college with hopes of playing no further than the collegiate level for a degree and has broke parents. It happens a lot.

    These kids that are dazzled by the NFL need a reality check anyways. Only about one percent of high school players ever make it. So they should be taught by high school coaches no matter how talented that a degree is your goal and the NFL is a bonus. Prothro took business classes. Tell me what you can do with a business degree that you can’t already do. That was his fault though, he could have chosen Civil Engineering (I would have!).

  19. Deb says: Mar 15, 2012 5:19 PM

    @bfloyd6277 …

    First, I saw a documentary on HBO Real Sports where they interviewed Tyrone Prothro and he said he was a party to that lawsuit. No, I didn’t mean to imply the suit was solely about Alabama–and I am a big Alabama fan. The suit, as I understand it, is about NCAA policy.

    I’m the wrong person to ask about a business degree. My parents are successful businesspeople without the degree, so maybe you’re right. But at least he didn’t major in basketweaving or something ridiculous.

    Otherwise, I agree completely with your post. I just support players receiving enough of a stipend that they can go out to dinner, etc., without being expected to get a job or drain their parents. And I wish someone would help them have a more realistic view of their chances for a pro career–but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

  20. petemangurian says: Mar 20, 2012 11:03 AM

    Interesting points that you make here. I wonder though about some of the blog communities responses to the post. Are these judgments supported with evidence or are they just repeating the wheel of misinformation?

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