Stop the Madness: Higher Education Needs to Support the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act
by Lauren Haugh
It’s been over 700 days since the last team cut a basketball hoop netting at the NCAA Basketball championships. For many, March Madness’s return is a return to normalcy that the country has been craving. As a college sports fan, I’m excited to spend my upcoming weekends watching multiple screens and cheering for the upsets. More than the fans, I’m sure the players are excited to be back on the court. The players are chasing their dream to be the next team to cut a piece of basketball hoop netting, but also for the contributions they make to their sport and their schools. Contributions that earn the NCAA quite a bit of money and it is time they earn their fair share. Some of the revenue the NCAA brings in is off of athletes’ name, image, and likeness (NIL), for example from advertisements, tv spots, jersey sales, and previously video games. From the revenue the NCAA brings in because of these student-athletes, the players don’t see any of that money. The current system is exploitative. As Sonny Vacaro, former sports marketing executive explained in a 2011 Atlantic article, ninety percent of NCAA revenue is generated by the top athletic stars, ninety percent of whom are black With March Madness starting this week, players have launched a social media protest #NotNCAAProperty. These athletes want the chance to market themselves and earn money off of their NIL.
These athletes are not alone. Various polls in recent years have shown a majority of Americans believe college athletes should be paid in some manner. Additionally, there is legislation in the Senate set to provide college athletes the ability to own their name, images, and likeness. S.238, the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act introduced by Senator Murphy, has been sent to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. S.238 “establishes a federal right for college athletes to market the use of their NIL” while prohibiting colleges or athletic associations from restricting or regulating this right. Notable conversations surrounding this issue focus on “paying” student-athletes. It might seem like paying student-athletes would be detrimental to higher education institutions that might be struggling financially, even more so since the start of the pandemic. Other opponents claim athletes don’t need to be paid since they receive a “free education”. However, as Geo Baker states in a tweet on March 18, the athletes are not looking to be paid from their schools for playing in games or practices. Student-athletes want the option to make money off of their likeness.
Higher education institutions and those who purport to be college athletic fans need to support the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act. According to Athletic Scholarship Statistics, 59% of Division I athletes are on an athletic scholarship. This does not mean that 59% of student-athletes receive full-scholarships that cover tuition, fees, room-and-board, and book-related expenses. Most students receive partial scholarships that may cover tuition and fees, room-and-board, or book expenses, but not all of those expenses together. This legislation could benefit more than just the top college athletes that are on full scholarships and have a chance of going pro. For example, women student-athletes that might not have a chance of going pro could finally profit off of their collegiate careers.
According to statistics, only around 2% of student-athletes will become professional athletes. By owning their NIL, athletes could make money to finance the part of their education that scholarships do not cover, have money for future medical expenses, or even support their families. According to the National College Players Association, in 2016, the average college athlete would still leave school with around $12,000 worth of student debt. Passing legislation could provide additional financial resources that may allow many students to be student-athletes and not worry about money.
What many people seem to forget is that these players are still college students and human beings. They are not there solely for our entertainment, or to generate money for the NCAA. We should be supporting these student-athletes in their demands. One way to do that is to support legislation that would allow them to benefit financially from their name, image, and likeness. While we fill out and monitor our brackets and cheer on our teams, the NCAA will benefit from our students playing in the tournament. Now let’s stop the madness of the NCAA deciding whether these students can make money off their names, images, and likeness.