It’s Time To Pay College Athletes

March Madness is here. One of the unofficial signs of Spring. Two weeks of exciting basketball for hardcore fans, casual gamblers, and office dwellers alike. Every year the games produce pressure, excitement, heartbreak, pride–but money is what the NCAA basketball tournament churns out the most.

Last year the NCAA Tournament generated over $1 billion in revenue. This year is certain to top that. Yet of all the people who make money off the tournament somehow, whether it’s advertisers or bracket pools, the players are the only ones who will not see a dime.

Sure, many of them (but not all) receive scholarships to attend college for free to play basketball. The biggest stars on teams like Duke and Kentucky will often play their one required year off from high school in college with the expectation they’ll be drafted into the NBA. Others who aren’t so lucky to be surefire NBA draft picks will spend up to 5 years in college focused solely on their athletics only to graduate with a meaningless degree and no skills outside their sports. All the while television networks, sponsors and the NCAA make a fortune promoting what they do on the court or field. One year at an expensive private school could cost upwards of $60,000 to $70,000. That sounds like a lot, but concession stands will sell more than that in nachos throughout the two weeks of March Madness.

A single 30 second ad will cost a few million dollars this year. Who knows how much money will be gambled away in Las Vegas, to say nothing of office tournaments and local bookies. College basketball, particularly in March, is so entertaining because of the hard work teams have put in all year for this final dance. They balance classes, social life, rigorous training schedules and oftentimes relentless media scrutiny all for the benefit of fans and advertisers. And it works. Likewise for college football playoffs.

It is long past time college athletes receive some well-deserved compensation for what amounts to free labor for their school and telecommunications companies.

The benefit of being a rambling newspaper writer instead of someone who has the power to make these decisions is that I’m not tasked with providing a plan to fairly compensate collegiate athletes. Who gets paid how much? Is it only some sports and not others whose athletes get a stipend? What about women’s athletics? Surely female athletes work just as hard as their male counterparts albeit for much less fanfare and recognition.

The bottom line is that they work as hard as, and are treated like professional athletes, but they are paid like volunteers. Only a tiny fraction of them will go on to make big money in professional sports. Too many of the rest will be left a lackluster education and empty pockets despite all the money they made for everybody else who watched them play.

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg native.