Every year during March Madness, NCAA basketball fans participate in the ritual conversation about whether college athletes should be paid for their labor. At present, many students are offered scholarships but not paid beyond that scholarship, nor do they have the time to hold on-campus employment. The schools, meanwhile, make millions.
This year, something is different: An investigative report from Yahoo revealed an underground economy of payments and favors between universities and potential athletes and their families. And while the NCAA was quick to cry foul and penalize offending parties, the report has reignited the debate around what athletes should have been entitled to all along. Complicating the debate: Black students make up more than half of Division 1 basketball players, and the policy that they shouldn’t be paid is supported by mostly white people.
Furthermore, because many of these students come from precarious financial situations at home, they don’t have the luxury of boycotting or going on strike. They have to watch as the NCAA makes billions from their performance — in ticket sales, merchandise, and more — while they (if they’re following the NCAA-dictated rules) never see a cent.
Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, makes his case in the latest episode of Today, Explained:
“[College athletes] are workers, and their labor funds a huge portion of the modern university. They exist as a way, in the current collegiate landscape, to produce revenue and produce money that otherwise would not exist.”
Listen to Zirin’s full argument on the latest episode of Today, Explained alongside former NCAA star Ed O’Bannon.
- NCAA basketball’s bribery scandal and its March Madness conspiracy theory explained (Dylan Scott)
- Your March Madness bracket is exploiting student athletes (David Zirin, The Nation)
- The NCAA is broken (Ed O’Bannon, Players’ Tribune)
- Large majority opposes paying NCAA athletes, Washington Post-ABC News poll finds (Alex Prewitt, New York Times)
- Just a reminder: the NCAA is a plantation, and the players are sharecroppers (Michael Hariot, The Root)
How do I get even more Today, Explained?
You can get the news we’re reading throughout the day, facts and stats to make you smarter about the world, and behind-the-scenes photos on Twitter at @Today_Explained. You can follow Sean at @Rameswaram, Dave Zirin at @EdgeOfSports, and Ed O’Bannon at @Ed_Obannon.
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