Guest Commentary

Steve Siebold: The NCAA should stop stealing from student-athletes

Players like Kansas guard Frank Mason III make billions of dollars for the NCAA. They should be paid, writes guest commentator Steve Siebold.
Players like Kansas guard Frank Mason III make billions of dollars for the NCAA. They should be paid, writes guest commentator Steve Siebold. AP

Imagine you start a new company and hire employees. Would you expect them to work for free? Of course not. So why does the NCAA feel that it’s fair for its players to work for no financial compensation?

It’s a debate that’s been ongoing for years with no resolution but continued to get attention going into this past weekend’s Final Four. Also, pushing the issue back into the national spotlight is a segment that aired Friday night on “Vice” on HBO. Correspondent Gianna Toboni spent a year meeting with athletic directors, coaches, sports marketing minds and the players to see the role money plays in college sports.

At the end of the day, though, there’s an overwhelming number of reasons why college athletes should be paid.

▪  Remove the players, and you remove the profit.

Without the players, there is no revenue coming in. It’s as simple as that. This isn’t a child’s lemonade stand. We’re talking about an industry that generates billions of dollars in revenues, yet the very people responsible for it all are completely eliminated from the reward. How in the world is that fair? The schools make millions. Many coaches have seven-figure contracts. TV networks are making millions on advertising. Stadium vendors are bringing in the dough. Municipalities and local businesses profit. Everyone wins but the players.

▪  A college degree is not fair compensation.

Many people like to make the free-education argument. While higher education is indeed commendable, a college degree isn’t going to make anyone successful on its own. Instead, better compensation for collegiate athletes would be the financial equivalent of attending school deposited into their bank accounts. This way, for the players who don’t make it to the pros, they have a small cushion to fall back on and pay their bills with for all their years of hard work, training and, in many cases, repeated injuries.

▪  They’re risking their lives.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, has been found in many former football players. In fact, the same neuropathologist who first discovered CTE in the brain of Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who died in 2002, believes that more than 90 percent of NFL players have brain disease.

How are college football players who develop CTE supposed to pay their medical bills? How are they supposed to hold down a job and make a living with a severe neurological disease? They can’t.

▪  It’s capitalism.

Some people will argue there is no fair way to pay college athletes. That’s ridiculous and an excuse to detract from the issue at hand. If every system had to either be perfect or not exist at all, we wouldn’t have many systems. Players should be paid based on productivity. The more value the athlete brings, the bigger piece of the pie he or she gets. It’s the basic premise of a free-market economy.

▪  They players need the money more than anyone else.

Many college players don’t come from wealthy backgrounds. Many of them are all too familiar with poverty, homelessness and bill collectors. That’s just the reality of life for many of these kids. As someone who played Division I college sports, I’ve witnessed firsthand the hours these guys, especially football and basketball players, put in to training and preparation. Since the majority don’t go to the pros, at least give them some financial compensation for the time they put in during college.

The bottom line is it’s time to pay college athletes. The NCAA is a big business, and like any other big business, it must take care of its greatest assets — its athletes.

Steve Siebold is a former professional athlete and a psychological performance coach.