The NCAA, technically a nonprofit organization, encompasses over 450,000 student-athletes across 23 varsity sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association helps to provide opportunities for these athletes to compete at a high level while receiving a college education. In 2012, the NCAA brought in about $872 million in revenue, the vast majority of which came from television and marketing rights fees for men’s basketball and football. In the past, many have posed the argument that these student-athletes that are ultimately generating this revenue for their schools and for the NCAA should be fairly compensated beyond merely their scholarships.
Current NCAA rules prevent student-athletes from profiting off of their name or likeness whatsoever. College athletes retain an amateur status that prohibits them from receiving any kind of compensation for their athletic prowess outside of their scholarships. As a result, the NCAA has conducted various investigations of college programs in suspicion of breaking these rules and allowing their athletes to receive extra benefits. Many of these have resulted in penalties for the programs and players involved. These stories make big headlines, and while they are compelling storylines in the sports world due to the possible ramifications for the involved programs and athletes, few fans seem to be morally opposed to the thought of a young star-athlete receiving some minor benefits when they are otherwise struggling to fill their gas tanks or refrigerators. It seems in some instances egregious that a student-athlete could have the national spotlight on him, signing autographs, being fodder for ESPN, and yet be unable to afford to buy himself a meal after a game. Certainly there is something wrong with this picture and it has been a highly debated issue for many years. But a movement towards better conditions for student-athletes wasn’t sufficiently organized and facilitated until recently when the National Collegiate Players Association, established in 2009, began their All Players United (APU) campaign.
Their efforts were first brought to the nation’s attention on September 21stwhen 28 college football players from Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Northwestern sported the acronym “APU” on tape and armbands accompanying their game day uniforms. This was the first organized public demonstration by the players themselves in an effort to improve benefits for student-athletes.
The NCPA’s top priority is not to pay student-athletes in proportion to what they generate for their programs and for the NCAA; their primary concern is for better health and safety procedures by the NCAA with regard to concussions. To this end, the APU campaign hopes that its efforts will help to “force the NCAA to finally take meaningful steps to minimize brain trauma in contact sports and provide resources for current and former players suffering with brain injuries.” In the past few years, the NCAA has indeed amended a few rules in college football in order help protect players from brain injuries, but the NCPA believes that they have not gone far enough.
Specifically, the NCPA’s goals for their APU campaign is to use a portion of the over $1 billion in new TV revenue to “guarantee scholarship renewals for permanently injured players, ensure injured players are not stuck with sports-related medical bills, increase scholarships $3-5k to cover the full cost of attendance, minimize brain trauma in contact sports, and establish an educational lockbox (trust fund) to increase graduation rates.”
While a $3-5k increase in scholarships may not seem to be sufficient to all those pushing for proper compensation, it seems that it would be a step in the right direction. Many student-athlete stakeholders are not pushing for more because they realize that a system involving the NCAA distributing significant revenues to specific players, programs, or conferences could be extremely problematic. Although there are many arguments in favor of such athletes, namely football and men’s basketball players, to receive proper compensation, it is difficult to imagine that this could be done in a fair way beyond what the APU campaign proposes. Paying only athletes in revenue-generating sports would belittle the concept of the student-athlete that the NCAA tries to maintain. Distributing revenues to conferences proportionate to their revenue stream would also be problematic, as it would create unjust recruiting biases for players choosing between conferences.
Another possibility could be to loosen the regulations against players not allowed to use their names or likeness for profit. The NCAA is currently facing a major lawsuit for unrightfully using the likeness of players in video games. Video game creator Electronic Arts recently reached settlements of undisclosed sums in similar lawsuits for using players’ likeness, and have announced that they are discontinuing their popular annual college football game.
With such lawsuits underway and still to come, it seems that a change could be coming as to the way the NCAA handles its student-athletes. The APU campaign is a major step toward initiating such change. The student-athletes are the lifeblood of the NCAA and without them, the NCAA is nothing.
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, an outspoken member of the APU campaign, was interviewed during Big Ten media days and discussed the current state of the college athlete. “We’re told we can’t promote ourselves, but then they promote us and use our names in jerseys and video games – and we’re not seeing any of that (revenue),” Colter said. “Also when you see some graduation rates, you realize some (student-athletes) are not reaping the true benefit of their scholarship. I think it’s time for the players to have a voice. It’s time for us to step up and voice our needs.”
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