Much has been made about the cost of college sports. USA Today published an article about the mounting costs of new stadiums and college scholarships. The New York Times published an article about the billions ESPN spent to broadcast college football. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the millions upon millions of dollars spent to retain NFL-turned-college coaches.
Meanwhile, college sports generate billions of dollars worth of ticket sales ($1.6 billion), corporate sponsorships ($1.5 billion), TV contracts ($1.2 billion), donations ($1.5 billion), and royalties for licensing and merchandise ($0.5 billion).
Despite all this big money, collegiate athletes only receive a free college education (with a focus on football, rather than a degree), argue Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley’s 2013 documentary, “Schooled: The Price of College Sports.”
Based on Taylor Branch’s 15,000-plus-word manifesto, “The Shame of College Sports” (which he explains more in-depth in his book, “The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA”), Finkel, Martin and Paley’s documentary articulates what collegiate athletes have been privately voicing inside of locker rooms for years: the discrepancy of pay in college sports.
“There was plenty of times where throughout the month where I didn’t have enough for food,” says Houston Texans’ running back Arian Foster, who used to play for the University of Tennessee Vols.
“Our stadium had like 107,000 seats, 107,000 people buying the ticket to come and watch us play. It’s tough just knowing that we had just won and I had a good game, a hundred yards, whatever, and I go outside and I had hundreds of kids telling me to sign autographs, I’m taking pictures, and then I walk back and reality sets in. I go to my dorm, open the fridge and there’s nothing in the fridge.… Why don’t I have something to show for what I did…. It’s total bullshit, but you don’t say anything because if you say anything, you step out of line and that will hurt your chances of getting to that next level.”
Foster admits that some of his former teammates sold drugs in order to make enough money for food and rent. Some college players have been caught fixing games. Other players have been suspended for receiving money for signing autographs.
The NCAA argues that players receiving compensation for collegiate level sports would be in direct violation of the heart of college sports — that they are playing in the amateur level. Amateurs don’t receive money.
In fact, amateurism was part of the winning defense in the Alvis Kent Waldrep vs. Texas Employers Insurance Association case. Waldrep was a former Texas Christian University running back who was permanently paralyzed after a big football game against Alabama’s Crimson Tide. TCU claimed that they were not liable for Waldrep’s injuries and shortly dropped his football scholarship after he was critically injured. Waldrep filed a lawsuit for workers’ compensation, but ultimately lost his case because Texas claimed that since Waldrep wasn’t an “employee,” but rather a “amateur student athlete” participating in a voluntary extracurricular, the college wasn’t responsible for his medical costs.
Of course, Waldrep wasn’t the only college athlete whose injuries and/or scholarship weren’t covered. The Atlantic has also documented the cases of University of South Carolina alumnus Stanley Doughty and Oklahoma University alumnus Kyle Hardwick. Additionally, Finkel, Martin and Paley offer case study after case study advocating pay for student athletes, adding context about the birth of the NCAA and showing how the industry openly exploits college athletes.
“If there’s no players, there’s no March Madness, there’s no brackets, there’s no bowl games, there’s none of that,” says Foster. “It’s funny. I looked up the definition of indentured servant and it’s exactly what a student athlete is. You get food, you get accommodations, and you get training, but you don’t get pay.”
Since the documentary was released, a federal judge has ruled that starting for the class of 2020, college athletes can be compensated in trusts that they will receive when they graduate or when they are no longer eligible to play. The NCAA has appealed Judge Wilkens’ rulings in the O’Bannon case.
“Schooled: The Price of College Sports” was directed by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley. The documentary is available to stream on Netflix. For more movie reviews, visit Liu’s blog: https://passthepopcornreviews.wordpress.com
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