Student-athletes have a right to profit from image
Last week, a regional representative of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a group of Northwestern University football players should be allowed to unionize and bargain collectively. This was met with mixed reactions, with some people saying student-athletes deserve to be compensated, and others saying that amateurism should be preserved. However, universities and the NCAA both profit off of student-athletes, while the athletes themselves make nothing. This is unfair and student-athletes should, at the very least, be compensated for the use of their image.
On the Huskies Fan Shop on the UConn athletic website, one can purchase several different replica jerseys. One of these is a basketball jersey with the number 11 on the back. Although the official description makes no reference to Ryan Boatright, it is not a coincidence that this arbitrary number was chosen. Nor is it a coincidence that the store does not sell any basketball jersey with the number 24, an equally arbitrary number that no player on the men's or women's basketball team wears. In fact, no basketball jersey other than number 11 is available. The intent is obvious, even if UConn won't (and can't, due to NCAA regulations) admit it.
The jersey in question retails for $74.95, of which Boatright receives nothing, even though people are buying the jersey because of him. Similarly, a #43 football jersey retails for $89.95. Surely it is no coincidence that Lyle McCombs, one of the most popular players on the team, also happens to wear number 43. Yet McCombs gets nothing from the sales of his jersey. Would anyone really want to buy a jersey with such a random number if McCombs didn't wear it? Probably not.
Jerseys are not the only way schools and the NCAA make money off of athletes. In 2010, the NCAA signed a new TV contract with CBS and Turner Sports to show every game of the men's basketball tournament live on one of four networks. Most readers have probably watched some of the coverage in the past couple weeks, and will continue to enjoy it this weekend when UConn plays in the Final Four. According to a report by the USA Today, this contract is worth nearly $11 billion.
The NCAA keeps some of this revenue and splits the rest with the schools that make the tournament, using a formula based on how far they advance. However, the athletes, who are the only reason people watch the basketball tournament, receive none of this very large sum. When the Final Four is played on Saturday night, it will bring in millions of dollars of revenue in the form of ticket sales, advertising and TV contracts. Yet the stars of the show, players like Shabazz Napier, Scotty Wilbekin, Aaron Harrison and Frank Kaminsky, receive none of that money. This is unfair to them, as without them, there would be no Final Four.
But the revenue does not stop when the tournament ends, or even when the players leave school. A search on Amazon reveals official highlight videos for NCAA Tournaments as far back as 1979. There are also numerous items dedicated to UConn's miraculous run to the men's basketball championship in 2011, including DVDs, t-shirts and hats. However, the stars of that team, like Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb, receive none of the revenue from the sale of these items.
If the NBA tried to pull a similar stunt, the players' union would riot. Every time someone buys a Kemba Walker Bobcats jersey, he receives royalties from that sale, as does the players' union. As a result, NBA stars are fairly compensated when their image is used for profit. Unfortunately, the NCAA fails to provide the same benefit. The Northwestern ruling is a good first step, and there are other court cases pending which could lead to fairer compensation. Most notably, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, attempting to repeal restrictions preventing student-athletes from profiting off of their own image. A judge approved the case for trial in February, and it will begin on June 9. No matter what happens, it will be a monumental ruling for college sports. The court should do the right thing, and rule that student-athletes have a right to profit off of their image.
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