How College Athletes Are Being Exploited

October 12th 2015

Diana Crandall

Author and retired NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar believes student athletes are “exploited” by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

“I think college athletes should be paid because they’re being exploited. The NCAA makes a couple billion dollars each year, and the people who actually do the work that enables them to make that money receive none of it,” Abdul-Jabbar told Business Insider. “And that’s absolutely exploitation."


USC v. Idaho

In 2014, Business Insider reported that the NCAA had a total revenue of $1 billion. As a non-profit organization, the NCAA reports that it receives most of its money from “television and marketing rights fees." They state that "in the end, more than 90 cents of every dollar the NCAA generates goes to our member institutions to support student-athletes.”

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No money is regularly put in athlete’s pockets, however, and scholarship money or additional stipends don't come anywhere near the amount of money college sports make for the NCAA. Furthermore, the NCAA usually offers scholarships for one year at a time. They are then re-evaluated the next year. In many cases, the NCAA says on its website, “coaches decide who receives a scholarship, what it will cover and whether it will be renewed.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that multiyear athletic scholarships, though allowed by the NCAA, are much less common.

More athlete than student.

The NCAA is an organization governs college sports, and the demands made of student-athletes are incredibly intense. A recent lawsuit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and the NCAA alleges that student-athletes might actually be spending over 40 hours a week practicing at the Division I school, while simultaneously receiving a sub-standard education.

The Washington Post reports that basketball player Rashanda McCants and football player Devon Ramsay allege that they were required to practice far beyond the in-season 20 hour maximum set by the NCAA, and they were also denied a high quality education because of “paper classes” designed to help them meet the GPA requirements also set by the NCAA.

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Even with a 20-hour practice schedule, athletes have a difficult time balancing school, sports, and personal time. The NCAA requires Division I players like those at UNC to be enrolled in at least 12 semester hours working toward an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree. In addition to full-time enrollment, they must maintain "satisfactory progress" toward that degree. The two former UNC athletes dug into what the lawsuit refers to as the "great hypocrisy" of college athletics in the U.S.

“UNC’s bogus classes once again reveal the great hypocrisy of college athletics in America,” the lawsuit said. “The NCAA and its member schools insist that their mission and purpose is to educate and to prevent the exploitation of college athletes. Yet it is the schools, the conferences, and the NCAA that are engaging in exploitation, subverting the educational mission in the service of the big business of college athletics—and then washing their hands of college athletes once they have served their purpose.”

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Abdul-Jabbar's comments support this notion of hypocrisy.

“We don’t have to make them rich,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “But they should get some of the reward from their hard labor, because going through college on a scholarship really is just a very wicked test of how long you can endure. And it shouldn’t be like that.”