The NCAA is back in the spotlight for recently announced plans to relocate seven championship events from the state of North Carolina throughout the 2016-17 academic year due to a discriminatory law against transgender individuals — House Bill 2 law, passed in the state in March earlier this year.
The praise the NCAA is currently receiving is well-earned. It is demonstrating how an organization can enact positive social change for the students it cares about. However, the positive attention the organization is dealing with in the current news cycle should not overshadow the other issues with which it is still affiliated, namely the problem of player compensation. It is past time for the organization to be committed to providing fair and equitable financial recompense to revenue-generating student-athletes.
As a governing body, the NCAA claims to be serving students as best it can, yet the status quo is such where there is no commitment by the organization to compensate student-athletes for the revenue they bring their schools. Historically, the NCAA has enacted strict punishments and challenges to athletes and teams that have attempted to buck the norm. Before 2013, video game publishing studio Electronic Arts partnered with the NCAA to create football video games. Yet the players included in the game were not compensated at all for the use of their likeness: EA and the NCAA were.
In 2014, Todd Gurley, a Georgia State football player, was suspended for signing autographs and other memorabilia. According to NCAA policy, student-athletes are unable to generate any form of compensation or income from college athletics. That means an individual like Gurley cannot make money off his own name, and thus, in violation of rules, he was suspended.
In 2015, the football team at Northwestern University attempted to unionize, to no avail, after players expressed a desire to receive employee status in a pursuit of better health coverage and increased stipends — costs that were not covered under existing scholarships and aid. They wished to be recognized as employees with rights and entitled to some compensation for the revenue their program brings to their school and the NCAA. Yet the NCAA strongly opposed their efforts, claiming that the attempt to “turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education.”
College athletics is a $12 billion industry, with $1 billion in ad revenue, ticket sales and merchandise going straight to the NCAA, according to its own 2015 statistics. The total amount that players like those at Northwestern, who generate the revenue in the first place and do not receive health benefits at all, received in compensation? Nothing.
Ultimately, the NCAA’s relocation of championships is the right thing to do. Other governing and public organizations should take note of the potential power they have to enact change. Yet such a commitment to players should extend to granting employee status to student-athletes. Just because these individuals voluntarily play for athletics does not mean they should be cut off from the revenue that their names and achievements bring to both the organization and their schools. It is time for the organization to go a step further and, in an effort to enhance its commitments to thousands of college athletes across the country, make sure they receive the benefits they deserve as both students and revenue-generating athletes.