This weekend marks the beginning of the college basketball season. For Oregon and Georgetown, it began in South Korea as part of the 2013 Armed Forces Classic. Putting aside the hyper nationalism, and the collective efforts from the NCAA/ESPN to convert patriotism into profits, to convert athlete labor into financial rewards, the event shined a spotlight of the collegiate sporting hypocrisy. And I am not even talking about the fact that student-athletes travelled to Korea IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEMESTER. Student’s first, right?
Rather, I am talking about two Oregon student-athletes who were denied the ability to play in this game, or even travel with the team. The NIKE Ducks, in consultation with the NCAA, suspended Dominic Artis and Ben Carter for selling their shoes; yes, their offense was selling the shoes the university gave them as part of COMPENSATION for making the school, the NCAA, ESPN, NIKE, and countless others billions of dollars. “It’s gotta be the shoes.” They lost a chance to travel to South Korea, and likely play in 9-12 games. They also will need to donate $1,800 to charity (this is the amount of money they reportedly made through selling shoes) as part of their punishment. Wear the swoosh, good job; advertising swoosh, part of the collegiate experience. Try to see the swoosh, watch out.
The suspension of these two student-athletes, and the rule allowing for this punishment, encapsulates everything that is wrong with the collegiate sports. While NIKE makes billions, in part because of the visibility provided by student-athletes, while colleges and universities get filthy off the labor of student-athletes, while coaches get paid (Dana Altman, Oregon coach, signed a 12.6 million contract with the school in 2011), student-athletes are left to accept table scraps – and punished if they try to sell them.
Amid the hoopla and the media-created fantasy of the glamorous life of collegiate athletes, one should pause to ask themselves: “why would two young men risk so much for $1,800 dollars?” While I don’t know the answer to this, it’s hard not to speculate given the larger landscape facing college athletes. In “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport,” Ramogi Huma and Ellen J. Staurowsky note the following:
- College athletes on full scholarship do not receive a “free ride”. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the average annual scholarship shortfall (out of pocket expenses) for Football Bowl Series (FBS) “full” scholarship athletes was $3,222.
- The compensation FBS athletes who are on “full scholarship” receive for living expenses (room and board, other expenses) situates the vast majority at or below the poverty level.
- The percentage of FBS schools whose “full” athletic scholarships leave their players in poverty is 85% for those athletes who live on campus; 86% for athletes who live off campus.
- The average FBS “full” scholarship athlete earns less than the federal poverty line by $1874 on campus and $1794 off campus.
- If allowed access to the fair market like the pros, the average FBS football and basketball player would be worth approximately $121,048 and $265,027 respectively (not counting individual commercial endorsement deals).
- Football players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $345k-$514k on 2009-10. The top spot was held by University of Texas football players. While 100% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty line and with an average scholarship shortfall of $2841 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $3.5 million each in 2010 excluding bonuses.
- Basketball players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $620k-$1 million in 2009-10. The top spot was held by Duke basketball players. While 80% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty and with an average scholarship shortfall of $3098 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $2.5 million in 2010 excluding bonuses.
- The poorest football and basketball players (generated combined FB and BB revenues of $30 million or more in 2009-10, yet live in the poorest bottom 1/3 of all of the players in the study live between $3,000-$5,000 below the poverty line in the report for further details.
The financial predicament facing student-athletes stands in stark contrast to the gold-lined pockets of college coaches, the platinum realities of colleges and universities, or their diamond studded realities of the sports media. They don’t even own their own likeness, their books, their time, their shoes or their futures. Billions of dollars fall into everyone’s hands but theirs. Still student-athletes struggle to make ends meet, in part through the profits and allure of shoes and apparel. The myth of amateurism is alive and well. Punishing those who sell shoes is all about sustaining the myth of amateurism; and that’s about protecting profits.
The suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter have not prompted national conversations about a corrupt and hypocritical NCAA; it has not led to columnist after columnist predicting reform for an organization dedicated to protecting its profits; it has not led to more #APU declarations from university faculty, who should be standing up for their students. Instead, we have gotten endless celebrations of the spectacle of collegiate sports; countless stories about student-athletes living the American Dream, ignoring the fact for all too many student-athletes collegiate sports remains fool’s gold. While celebrated for the mythology of “bootstraps” or pulling themselves up by their shoelaces, student-athletes that dare to challenge exploitation are punished. Treated as commodities themselves they are not allowed to sell and profit off other commodities. Stick that in your RULE book. It’s gotta be the shoes