Why NCAA Athletes Should NOT Be Paid

In Basketball
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There are 3 levels of earning money (as covered in episode #915 of the Work On Your Game MasterClass). 

Accept. When I got hired at McDonald’s as a high school senior, I accepted the job even before I knew about the $5.25 / hour pay. I had no leverage to ask for more, so I took whatever they gave me. 

Negotiate. When you have leverage, you negotiate. As a professional speaker, I’ve asked for more money than what was initially offered by simply asking for it. Apparently the organizers saw enough value in me to make “the bag” a bit bigger. 

Demand. If you call Rihanna’s management to book the singer for your birthday party, you don’t tell them that you have a $450 budget. There won’t be a back-and-forth haggling over details. Rihanna’s management will tell you when she’s available, what she will and will not do, how long she can perform, what the price will be, and that you need to pay up-front to book her calendar. Rihanna can make these demands because while you can find another singer, you will not find another Rihanna. 

When accepting a scholarship, NCAA athletes agree to a binding contract that stipulates, among other things, that the player shall have tuition, room & board covered in exchange for playing their sport. It is made clear in that contract that the player will not receive a salary for their performance. 

If, as an athlete, you agree to and sign this contract, then you agreed to not be paid. If you don’t like this offer, don’t sign it.  Don’t sign a contract, then go and complain about the contract you signed. That doesn’t make sense. 

On a logical, practical level, that ends the whole argument about whether NCAA athletes should be paid. It’s not really a question of “should.” What did you agree to? What’s on paper?

But let’s go further. 

Is the money available to pay players if the situation does change? 

Yes. I’m sure the NCAA and its schools could find a few dollars laying around to toss to their players –– er –– “student-athletes.”

There would be logistical issues to clear up, such as (but not limited to)… 

– Does every athlete get paid, even though football (far and away #1) and basketball (a distant second) are the highest-earning (and often only-earning) sports? 

– Do the benchwarmers and walk-ons get the same pay as the star players? 

– Does Title IX come into play? Do the women athletes get paid too, even though their sports generate significantly less revenue? 

– Can boosters pay the players as well?

– What about payments to the family in the form of jobs, loans and gifts?

How would the athletes EVER make getting paid happen? 

The same way anyone creates a negotiation situation: Leverage. 

NCAA athletes have no leverage. 

As long as they keep signing scholarship contracts, players have no leverage to complain about or ask for a salary. Players create and use leverage when they see and utilize other options to showcase their talents, such as the NBA’s G-League (slowly creating a path for a handful of top-ranked HS players to skip college) and overseas leagues (also only available to top-ranked players who have the maturity and stability around them to pull it off). 

Most high school athletes do not have other options –– thus, they have zero leverage. They must remain at level 1, accepting what’s given. 

Lavar Ball had a post-high-school league for one year, but that flamed out. I’ve heard of some other guys starting a similar league for young players to get paid and forgo the NCAA, and I’m sure there will be more coming. We’ll see how they turn out. 

Thus, the NCAA will keep the situation as-is, as they have nothing to gain in changing things. 

So, should NCAA athletes be paid? 

No ––if they continue working in a system that says they don’t get paid. 

Yes –– if they get some leverage and have more than one option for playing sports after high school. 

This is the truth. The truth is not sexy. 

Speaking of leverage, read my book Work On Your Game so you can see how I created leverage for myself as an athlete on the professional level and used that to start my business. 

Get the hardcover book here: http://WorkOnYourGameBook.com