Top-level college sports is big business, but very little of this flows to the student-athletes. Ohio State, for example, receives about $110 million in revenue each year from ticket sales, television rights, concessions, parking, logo sales, etc. — over one-fifth of what it receives in tuition revenue from its more than 50,000 students. And its basketball players are paid about $29,500 each.
In a competitive market, companies cannot exploit workers in this way for long, as rival firms will hire them away at higher salaries. In basketball, however, the NCAA cartel prevents that, dictating limits on pay (essentially college costs) and even penalizing transfers to other schools. Strict rules also prevent college athletes from signing lucrative endorsement deals or accepting gifts beyond a certain amount. Soon after entering the NBA, Mr. Durant further augmented his earnings by signing a $72 million deal with Nike; he inked other endorsement contracts with Gatorade, EA Sports and Upper Deck.
If all of that money from ticket sales and television rights isn’t going to student-athletes, where does it end up? In 2006, salaries for coaches and administrators accounted for nearly 32% of total athletic-department expenses. Many head football coaches at top universities earn five times the salary of their university president. At a time when most schools are tightening their belts with salary freezes, staff layoffs and the like, the University of Tennessee just announced it was going to start paying two assistant football coaches $650,000 or more each (the head coach makes $2 million). Jim Calhoun, head coach of the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team, recently made headlines when he launched into a tirade at a blogger who questioned his $1.6 million annual compensation. Those high salaries are financed from the talents of unpaid student-athletes. (Talk about income inequality.) So not only are the young being exploited, but the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors.