In 2014, I worked the only game of my career at Madison Square Garden. We were playing West Virginia, and we were borrowing the Knicks’ locker room for the night.
“Hey! That’s Melo’s locker!”
Some of our guys took selfies sitting in Carmelo Anthony’s locker, and I turned to our star point guard and asked him what he thought.
“It’s not that nice,” he said. “It’s not as nice as ours back home.”
The thing is, he was only half right. They actually had 2 locker rooms better than what the Knicks used in the Garden.
Every year when the tournament comes around, in the news will be a lot of “the players should boycott” takes. I have a ton of these anecdotes similar to the one above that demonstrate why they won’t and shouldn’t. I picked the MSG lede because it best explains the idea that “The schools have all this money for facilities, but none for the players!” Well, about that…
That’s what they like. That’s what most of the kids say is important to them. Lazy rivers and napping rooms. Drake at Midnight Madness. When you say there’s no money for them, that’s way off – ALL of the money is for them. This is what they’ve said is a priority.
Playing basketball is the part the players love. That’s what they want to do. They want to play well and win games and championships. When they sign a National Letter of Intent to play for a college program, they sign under conditions of the agreement – but they also sign only to play basketball. The other stuff – activities that are clearly revenue-driving – is where the players should be compensated. After 10 years working in Division I, I’ve identified some situations where I thought, “Man we should be paying them for this.”
While I don’t think players should be paid for being on the basketball (or football) team, I do think there are some things asked of them that go beyond what they have agreed to in the NLI:
Scenarios Where A Player Should Be Compensated
1. 9 pm Games
There’s no reason (well, there’s one) to play a college sports event at 9 p.m. Nobody likes it. The road team sits in the hotel all day and gets home at 3:30 a.m. Hosting a 9 p.m. basketball game is almost as bad. Consider this timeline:
9 pm – play basketball (or football game, but let’s use basketball)
12 am – more or less an hour after the game has ended, you’re on the bus headed to the airport
1:15 am – depending on travel party size and what the security level is, this is when you’re airborne
2:30 am – plane lands, now it’s time to get on a bus and ride back to campus
3:30 am – this is about when you’re walking into your place, give or take.
And the cry to the players is, “Go to class tomorrow!” I’ve always thought that was a tough assignment. As a staffer, I’m likely going to sleep in a little bit if I can. The players don’t have that option, and should be compensated for that.
Actionable Solution: After playing in a game that begins after 8 p.m. local time, players are compensated if they attend class the next day. Sign in at class after getting back late, get some money. The alternative to this should be a school refunding the conference a fee to get out of the late tip/kick to play earlier.
2. Licensed School Media Appearances
“Josh, we need a player for the radio show downtown tonight.” Now that we’re feeding players all they can eat, a dinner at the radio isn’t going to cut it. Or it’s “we need a player for this TV segment.” So now I’m asking a student-athlete to come to practice early so we can record a segment for Learfield’s show. While I do see value in this for players, it’s still more than what they’ve agreed to.
Actionable Solution: Learfield has money for the coaches, they should have some money for players. I would put a cap on (and report) what a player can receive from school-sponsored media. Come out to the radio show and do a segment on Monday night? For 60 bucks and dinner, everyone wins.
3. Merchandise Cut
There was much anger and walking back when Jay Bilas exposed the Johnny Football jersey debacle. (That was 5 years ago? Man, where does time go?) Players love seeing people on campus wearing their jersey. They *love* it. But it’s a point of contention, and I’m a PR guy. So I can fix it.
Actionable Solution: Make every jersey available for sale. From Johnny Football to the last kid at the last-ranked school. Players get 5% of sales from their personal jerseys. At NC State, we had a smart, personable and popular walk-on player named Staats Battle. I suspect his jersey would’ve sold well. And he should’ve gotten $3 for each one. And so should our NBA lottery picks.
4. Postseason & Academic Performances
At one of my stops, I received a $1,000 bonus when my teams made the NCAA Tournament. And not just in basketball. I thought that was fair, it was often significantly more work and sometimes stressful. Time away from family. Your life depending on the result of a game. That’s worth something.
The entire economic model is based off of winning tournament games and accumulating “units.” Further, coaches and admin receive bonuses for reaching academic benchmarks. And that’s fine, it’s part of running a well-oiled department. But athletic and academic achievement by student-athletes should
Actionable Solution: As each postseason game is won, a few dollars can go into a fund for players. Get a 3.0 GPA? Get money. That can somehow be managed. Bonuses for NCAA Tournament performances are massive. A chunk of that should go to the kids who make the plays. Kids would be more likely to go schools with winning track records in the tournament and academics. This is what I would be interested in – an emphasis on winning instead of Drake concerts.
To be clear, playing major college athletics is an awesome experience. Being a college sports star is worthwhile on many levels, during and after your playing days. College athletics admin have done a great job of adjusting to the climate, but this subject keeps popping up. And I do think the fundamental “fix” is to consider the NLI they sign and what the kids are actually agreeing to.
Anything past that? That’s where compensation conversation should begin.