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To equalize the disparate wealth gap, the NCAA should first compensate Black and brown student athletes

“We must, therefore, commit ourselves individually and collectively to examining what we can do to make our society more just and equal,” National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert tweeted in response to the killing of George Floyd by three Minneapolis police officers.

Yet, a mere month after issuing this statement, the NCAA and its member universities are still exploiting Black and brown student athletes. Top football schools are insisting on having a fall football season despite the risk of COVID-19 infections to ensure they do not lose that heavy stream of income. The NCAA continues to bank on the men’s Division I basketball championship to generate approximately 75 percent of the NCAA’s revenue despite the complications in preventing COVID-19 infections in an indoor arena. 

With these institutions failing to put the health of student athletes at the forefront of their fall and winter plans, it is evident that they do not want to examine their roles in profiteering off Black and brown bodies.

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship generates over 850 million dollars in television and marketing rights sales. This accounts for almost 100 percent of the NCAA’s revenue from these types of sales and is almost three and a half times more than the organization makes from its other revenue streams. If we used a similar revenue percentage for University of Maryland, Baltimore County Athletics, the UMBC men’s basketball team would be responsible for around 980 thousand dollars of the over 13 million the university generates from athletics.

These figures place almost all the responsibility for generating the NCAA’s income on the backs of primarily Black student athletes as 56 percent of all Division I men’s basketball players are Black.

While the NCAA does not make money from the Division I College Football Playoff, its member universities do. For the four universities and their coordinating conferences that make it to the playoffs, the games earn them over six million dollars in direct payouts in addition to increased publicity and merchandise sales. Schools that do not make it to the playoffs still earn payouts ranging from two million to six million for their participation in other bowls.

Similar to men’s Division I basketball and the NCAA, these universities are generating massive revenues from the efforts of a 49 percent Black Division I football player base.

A study by the National College Players Association states that this kind of revenue generation by the NCAA and universities from the physical efforts of primarily Black student athletes is downright theft. 

It is no secret that the NCAA is and will always be against paying its student athletes for their work. The organization disguises its hoarding of the money made off student athletes as maintaining the “purity” of college athletics through amateurism. The amateurism rules prevent student athletes from being compensated or sponsored for their athletic successes, ensuring all money flows into the hands of the NCAA, conferences and universities.  

However, the NCPA study shows just how much of an impact this hoarding has on the Black student athletes who are the primary revenue producers for these institutions. The study states that by not paying student athletes their fair market value — defined by the NCPA as the income players would earn if the NCAA and universities paid them the same revenue-sharing percentages of the NFL (47 percent) and the NBA (50 percent) — the NCAA and its members are robbing them of generational wealth. 

By not paying these Black student athletes their fair market value, these institutions prevent Black players from receiving millions that would improve their lives in the present and support them in the future. This money could help establish a more secure environment for these players that tend to live three thousand to five thousand dollars below the poverty line. This more secure environment could bridge the difference between these student athletes’ one in 17 chance of graduating with a bachelor’s degree and their wealthier counterparts one in two chance.

The NCPA study says that if these Black student athletes invested a mere 100,000 of their four-year potential income into a retirement fund with six percent interest, these players would accrue over a million dollars in 40 years. This is the type of money that could help these Black student athletes bridge the gap between white and Black homeownership and between white and Black life savings. This is the type of money that white families pass down from generation to generation and that Black families who built this country are deprived of.

If the NCAA and the conferences and universities that compose it are committed to making our society a more just and equal place, they should first start by giving their Black student athletes a fair share of the massive amount of revenue they generate. The change to the Name, Image and Likeness rule only scratches the surface of what these institutions need to do to give back the wealth they stole from primarily Black and Brown student athletes.