As March Madness Approaches, The NCAA Still Unfairly Blocks Players From Getting Paid


March Madness is on the horizon. For many basketball crazy states, it is the most wonderful time of the year. On the surface, it's hard to find issue with all of the buzzer beaters and upsets the NCAA provides each year. But a look just below the surface reveals a huge problem: The players, the ones doing all the work, aren’t getting paid. And for me, that’s a problem.

The NCAA is set to rake in around $1 billion in revenue from the NCAA tournament this year. Media rights, ticket sales, sponsorships, and ad revenue generated by the tournament represents the largest portion of the NCAA’s budget most years. Close to $10 billion will be gambled on the tournament outcomes in the form of traditional Vegas-style bets and of course, company bracket pools. This $11 billion is just what’s made during the three-week tournament. This does not include the money made during the rest of the season by the teams. For example, my alma mater, the University of Kentucky made $36.7 million in 2015. My hometown team, the much-maligned University of Louisville, made $45.8 million in the same time frame.

The NCAA cites several reasons as to why NCAA athletes shouldn’t get paid:

The NCAA claims to be an “amateur” athlete organization and maintaining amateur status is crucial to preserving an academic environment and keeping competitive balance.

This sounds like a good sentiment in theory, but the NCAA’s archaic idea of amateur sports somehow allows coaches to make millions of dollars per season. How many little league baseball coaches have you seen make $5 million per season? It also endorses an NBA sponsored “one and done” system that encourages players to stay in college for only a year to fulfill the NBA draft age requirement which nullifies the academic argument. As for the “competitive balance”… when was the last time Duke lost a recruiting battle to a school like Central Michigan?

The other obstacle that the NCAA claims in the argument against paying players is the fact most NCAA sports don’t make money and all of the other sports are subsidized by basketball and football.

This is true. The other sports don’t make money. If we are truly paying student-athletes according to their market value, most athletes in the less popular sports are probably not worth the value of their scholarship. The surplus from football and basketball is needed to keep the other sports afloat. With that being said, there is enough money to pay basketball and football players a few thousand dollars and still subsidize the other sports. For example, eliminating one assistant coach position in most cases frees up enough money to pay a 15 man roster an average of $10,000 a year.

The last barrier the NCAA cites concerning paying superstar college athletes is Title IX. Title IX is a law the demands equitable treatment for men and women athletes. It would be hard to justify paying athletes in less popular sports that don’t even turn a profit.

However, Title IX really is not the obstacle the NCAA wants you to believe it is. For starters, the law requires equitable practices in terms of scholarships, but it doesn’t require equal financial compensation and the NCAA already has a huge pay gap between men’s and women’s sports coaches. This pay gap that has been challenged and upheld in court. Most people believe this precedent would apply to paying players too.

As much as the NCAA wants to frame the idea of paying players as an impossible endeavor, there are a number of quick and easy ways to allow players to get paid and still maintain the rest of the college sports ecosystem.

  • Allocate some of the money from coach salaries to player salaries

  • Allow players to accept endorsements while in school

  • Let players make money off their likeness on jerseys, video games, or fantasy sports

  • Allow players to make money signing autographs

  • Let well-to-do boosters finance the salaries of athletes (like they already do under the table)

  • Pay players from the substantial profits left after subsidizing the other sports

There are already a number of options these athletes do for free that could easily make them money while in school. The NCAA knows this, but paying student-athletes simply is not part of their model and they don’t want to adjust.

Student-athletes generate billions in revenue every year. They deserve to be compensated relative to their ability.


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.