NCAA Pay for Play

Photo by: August Phlieger

The National College Athletic Association, or NCAA, is facing a new way of doing business that’s never officially been part of the play book. A Supreme Court ruling gives student athletes the opportunity to cash-in on their sport – and potentially get a slice of the multi-billion-dollar profits. Lisa Fletcher takes a look at what many college athletes call a victory.

Kaleb McGary: I’m far from believing that college athletes should be rich by any means. But the financial struggle of a college athlete should not be what it is.

Atlanta Falcons starting right tackle, and former University of Washington lineman, Kaleb McGary, says his rise from amateur to first round NFL draft pick wasn’t easy.

Lisa: Did you struggle financially as a college student-athlete?

McGary: Oh, yes. It was very difficult to maintain, not just gas, utility bills, food. It is very difficult to find anywhere that is at a reasonable renting price.

Lisa: And there are plenty of people out there who say, “Look, you’re getting tuition. You’re getting room and board. You’re getting a stipend for food.”

McGary: That’s a fair point, but those average students also aren’t getting up at 5:00 AM to go work out for six months out of the year to get ready for football season. When there’s such high expectations, it’s fair to ask compensation.

There’s no question, athletes like McGary, who played college football, are from the school of hard knocks. Every hit, sack and clash – generating wild roars from the fans and whopping revenues for the schools.

Since 2003, college athletics have generated more than $152 billion in total revenue. Despite that, a 2019 study found 86% of student-athletes living below the poverty line.

For 115 years, the National College Athletic Association, or NCAA has avoided compensating athletes beyond tuition, room and board, but that could all soon change.

In sports terminology, what the Supreme Court did last June to level the playing field is called an “assist.”

The U.S. Supreme Court says the NCAA cannot enforce some of its rules limiting education related benefits.

Only in this instance, instead of passing a ball, they issued a unanimous decision, giving athletes a chance to score by forcing the NCAA to authorize its member schools to provide education-related perks like tutoring expenses, computers and study abroad programs – all potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The NCAA outright bans paying players salaries, and critics warn that awarding anything of value beyond a traditional scholarship could soon bring an end to the pinnacle of amateur sports.

A former college basketball player warns top programs will demand even more money to keep up with the competition, and the easiest source of that extra cash comes from cutting sports that don’t make money.

The winner of a Nobel Peace Prize argues pay for play will take a toll on a valuable tool for social mobility.

And the former commissioner of an East Coast Athletic Conference candidly writes college is supposed to be about pursuing knowledge, not pursuing a buck.

The NCAA would not comment on the extent to which it views the Supreme Court decision to provide college players with more money as potentially jeopardizing to their amateur status in athletics.

However, Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh called the Supreme Court decision allowing compensation, an important and overdue course correction and in a blistering opinion, dismantled the NCAA’s position that amateurism is the defining feature of college sports – saying the “NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

Another win for college athletes this summer. The NCAA adopting a temporary rule change on July 1, granting student athletes, for the first time, the ability to monetize their name, image and likeness.

Though the plan is in its infancy, Fresno State basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder scored endorsement deals with boost mobile, and it is forecast that University of Connecticut basketball star Paige Beckers has the potential to pull in $1 million a year from sponsorship deals, based on the size of her social media following.

Lisa: Do you see this changing the landscape for student athletes?

Steve Kennedy: Well, it’s an opportunity for them to make money in a world where they were previously not able to.

Enter Steve Kennedy, an Atlanta entrepreneur capitalizing on a new era of compensation for college athletes.

Kennedy: They were conditioned to give everything away for free. We’re engaging in conversations with them to try to help them understand what their value actually is. 

Kennedy is part of a growing industry connecting college athletes to these newly available commercial opportunities.

But what college athletes can make depends where they play sports. An array of bills supporting “name, image, and likeness” legislation have been proposed, introduced, or signed into law in nearly 40 states.

All the more reason why some in Congress are advocating for compensating student-athletes and developing a national standard.

What is it that we need to do?

Christina Chenault: I think there definitely needs to be a national bill put in place. Athletes do not have the power within the system. The athletes are always going to be put on the back burner or put at a state of disadvantage.

Of course, none of this was an issue in the 70’s when Tommy Tuberville played free safety at Southern Arkansas.

And it was totally out of his hands as head football coach at Auburn.

But now, as a U.S. Senator, Tuberville calls this new frontier of NCAA compensation “a big experiment” and believes if college athletes eventually earn a salary, ultimately a handful of schools will dominate sports.

Sen. Tuberville: You can’t have some groups out there doing it one way in one state, and some groups doing it another way.

Lisa: If I’m hearing you correctly, you support Congress stepping in to essentially level the playing field, so all the schools and all the student athletes are treated equally.

Sen. Tuberville: Yeah. The cat’s out of the bag now. Okay? Now would I have been for this at the beginning of the day? Probably not, because it’s just going to be hard to police this. Can you force every state to do the same thing? I don’t know whether we can do that or not. We’re looking into it.

McGary says he’s counting on lawmakers, like Tuberville, to create a uniform, national standard such as how quickly students could access endorsement money, and whether or not it should be pooled and redistributed among other athletes.

McGary: These kids are not going to know exactly what to do with the power they get, should this continue to go in their favor. It’s important for people, like Tuberville, to lend guidance and to create a standard that will actually help direct the flow of money and power so that one or the other, the university or the student-athlete doesn’t get left in the dust or just create more problems than they solved.

Sharyl (on-camera): And so what is Congress doing?

Lisa (on-camera): In just the last two years, we’ve seen eight bills – some of which have been introduced by members of Congress who are former players – so they know this issue inside and out. And the most recent seems to be getting traction with bipartisan support. It would create a federal standard that would allow student athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness – and completely take it out of the hands of the NCAA.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top