The Minnesota men’s basketball team won the National Invitation Tournament 65-63 on Thursday in a competitive game against Southern Methodist University. With the championship victory, the Gophers garnered their most wins in a season since the vacated 1997-98 outing. Although they won the NIT, first-year head coach Richard Pitino will not receive any additional bonuses to his $1.2 million base salary.
On the other hand, the coaches whose teams made the Final Four this year will receive a combined $358,333 in bonuses. Adding bonuses for assistant coaches and athletic directors for those four schools, the amount could exceed $1 million by the end of the tournament. In addition to making it to the NCAA semifinals, the four head coaches have made a total of $850,000 in bonuses for regular-season and conference tournament success.
Yes, I understand that it’s impossible to compare the NIT to the NCAA tournament. However, comparing these coaches and every other coach in the country, there is one striking similarity that doesn’t make sense to me. Every NCAA basketball player makes no money. None.
Why, in a world where major college-level sports like football and basketball are gaining in popularity and revenue potential, do the stark inequalities exist? Besides, if the amateur, non-paid student athletes didn’t exist, the coaches would technically have no way to receive their multimillion- dollar salaries, right?
College athletes are starting to take note of the current discrepancy. Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is leading the charge to create a union along with several other Northwestern football players. The National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that scholarship football players at Northwestern have a right to unionize, which would allow them to lobby for better health care coverage and larger scholarship funds. Essentially, the NLRB ruled that the Northwestern players were full-time employees, since they don’t get class credit for the many practice and game-day hours they put into their sport.
Even college coaches recognize the discrepancy. When asked about college players potentially unionizing, Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan acknowledged the unbalanced system. “I think the players do deserve more things,” Donovan said. “Should they be paid? I don’t know what it is. But there needs to be more done for the student-athletes, in my opinion.”
The ruling is a significant one, and even though the inequality is an unavoidable problem, it’s too soon to say that athletes should become fully salaried employees for the various universities around the country.
First off, only football and men’s basketball generate true income, with some schools like the University of Minnesota receiving profit from hockey. Universities or conferences actually subsidize most sports themselves. According to Title IX and other current NCAA rules, if football and basketball players became paid employees, so would the athletes of every other sport a college offers. Although entertaining in their own right, other sports would not be able to generate enough revenue to justify player salaries in the current system. These other sports would likely have to be cut from many colleges, and this would revoke thousands of scholarships from deserving young athletes.
What student-athletes can do now, however, is create unions that fight for non-salary affairs. This would be a good first step to balance out the top-heavy collegiate revenue model.
Players unions could first fight to receive scholarship supplements that would balance out the cost of living during college. Currently, most full-ride athletic scholarships cover tuition, room and board, and book costs. The scholarships do not cover basic living expenses like clothing or transportation costs, which studies suggest total $3,000 per player per year. New scholarships covering these costs would be a nice stepping stone into further frontiers.
In my opinion, these $3,000 supplements should come directly from the ridiculous bonuses that coaches receive in addition to their large salaries. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan earned a $50,000 bonus for making the Final Four. He could have $2,000 left over for his pocket if he gave $3,000 to each of the 16 players on the Badgers roster. This would probably be doable for his income, since he makes a base salary of more than $2 million.
In addition to this, the players union could lobby to allow personal endorsement. This would allow players to sell and receive extra cash for their own merchandise, like jerseys or memorabilia. Not only would this open a currently untapped revenue stream, but it would also incentivize players to perform better.
The entire argument regarding the monetary disparity between players and coaches should not take anything away from the latter. Many coaches, including Richard Pitino and the Final Four coaches, are role models. It’s also important to remember that these athletes are gaining an education for a lower price. However, the growing profitability of college sports calls for system reform. This outdated NCAA priority is due for a 21st-century upgrade.