In anticipation of tonight's National Championship game between the Louisville Cardinals and the Michigan Wolverines, ESPN has been airing program after program reminding the nation of the last time that the Wolverines were in this position. Since the Final Four was determined, we've had Michigan's "Fab 5" shoved down our throats. Between Jalen Rose being interviewed by everyone in Bristol, CT and the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the team, it's been hard to ignore all the references that have been made to the team. The movie did, however, bring up one interesting point that I would like to explore further: the exploitation of NCAA athletes.
When the "Fab 5" were recruited coming out of high school in 1991, it was the first time that a college program had brought in so many of the top national recruits at one time. Four of the five were ranked in the top 10 nationally and all five were ranked in the top 100 (Ray Jackson was the only one ranked outside the top 10, at #84). Almost from the beginning they began to live up to the hype, making the National Championship game in their very first season together, losing to the Duke Blue Devils by 20 points. After the game, the "Fab 5" became a huge marketing source for the University of Michigan, bringing in more than $10 million to the university and Nike for everything from shoes to plain black socks. The next season the "Fab 5" returned to the National Championship game, losing this time to North Carolina on one of the most memorable plays in NCAA tournament history, Chris Webber calling a timeout that the team didn't have, resulting in a technical foul and ultimately a loss.
What did the "Fab 5" get out of their fame? What did they get out of being an enormous cash cow for their university? According to the documentary, a few free tacos. This, and countless other examples over the last two-plus decades, have led to many people asking why we don't pay these players some sort of stipend for all that they do for the university. These players get their likeness put on every article of clothing you can think of, they are put into video games, they are used to bring in more recruits to the university to ensure that the cycle continues, and yet they don't see a dime of those profits. No matter how good they are, they are supposedly "amateurs" and unable to receive any money at all until they make the jump to the professional level. The NCAA will tell you that the universities that these players attend are supposed to be grooming them for the rest of their lives, are supposed to be looking out for their best interests. Yet they are exploiting these very same kids to bring millions of dollars into their schools. The argument for paying players is certainly a compelling one, and one that I wholeheartedly understand.
That being said, I do not think it is feasible. There are too many issues that would have to be figured out before you could even begin to think about paying players. How much would you pay them? How would smaller schools be able to compete with the larger ones? They do not have the kind of budgets that a "Power 6" school does. Does everyone on the team get paid at the same level or do the superstars get paid more than the bench warmers? What about the lesser known sports, how do you reconcile the pay scale for them? Does the hockey team get paid less than the basketball team? Does the tennis team get paid at all? Then there's the issues of men versus women. Men's sports traditionally bring in far more money than the women's, does that mean that the men should get paid more than their female counterparts? All of these questions and many, many more need to be answered if we want to give these kids what is arguable their fair share of these profits.
Until these questions are answered in a way that is fair to everyone, universities are going to continue to make millions on socks while star players just hope to get a free taco every now and again.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.