U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is an avowed sports fan, always eager to talk about his love for the Red Sox, Giants, and UConn basketball.
So his interest in the world of college athletics runs deeper than that of most politicians. Murphy has critiqued the NCAA and the business of college sports, but he was compelled to take action while watching Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson fall to the floor when his Nike sneaker exploded soon after the start of a heralded game against North Carolina — a game that saw ticket price rise to $4,000.
Williamon sprained his knee and has since returned, but the idea that the freshman may have jeopardized his future career during a high-profile and profitable “amateur” event served as a springboard for Murphy.
On Thursday, Murphy released the first in a series of reports that seek to expose the problems in college sports. Titled “Madness Inc.: How Everyone is Getting Rich Off College Sports — Except the Players,” the report ultimately calls for student-athletes to be paid.
Citing statistics and revenue numbers, the report “seeks to shine a light on the size, scope, and nature of the college sports industrial complex as well as examine the ways participating institutions move money around the student-athletes who provide the labor and their bodies for other people’s profits.”
Murphy, a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, rolled out the report as the money-making NCAA Tournament moves to the Sweet 16 round.
“The NCAA is broken,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am a big college sports fan, but I think most fans recognize that the NCAA today isn’t acting in the best interest of many student-athletes. College basketball and football have become a multi-billion dollar industry where everyone’s getting rich except the students actually doing the work. Frankly, it’s a civil rights issue that no one is talking about. That’s why I’m speaking out.”
Murphy’s report critiques what he calls “The College Sports Industrial Complex.” Citing the Department of Education, the reports says college sports programs generated $14 billion in total revenue last year — a $10 million increase from 2003. That’s more than every professional sport, with the exception of the NFL.
More numbers cited: $936 million in student aid goes to 45,000 athletes in so-called Power Five conferences, while $1.2 billion covered salaries for the 4,400 Power Five coaches. The reports also touches on “lavish facilities” and lucrative deals with corporate sponsors and media partners.
“Under the current system, students in big-time athletic programs are shortchanged on their education as the college sports machine demands more of their time and more pressure to win,” Murphy said. “Meanwhile, coaches, universities, broadcasters and even shoe companies are raking in the cash and sending a relatively small percentage of the money to students in the form of scholarships. The NCAA needs to come up with a way to compensate student-athletes, at least in the sports that demand the most time and make the most money. It’s an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of civil rights.”
The solution? “The NCAA must start putting the players first — that starts with finding a way to fairly compensate them for their labor,” the reports states in its conclusion.
But it offers no specific roadmap or plan to implement change. Murphy, though, isn’t the only politician calling for an overhaul to the NCAA and there is a growing support for compensating players from within the college sport industry. And earlier this month a federal judge in Oakland, Calif. ruled the NCAA violates antitrust law by capping education-related expenses.
The NCAA is appealing the ruling, but there is momentum toward changing the way college athletes are compensated.
Future reports from Murphy will examine the nature of amateurism, how programs fail to provide a full education to student-athletes, the long-term health consequences college athletes face, and, ultimately, how to address issues within the college sports industry.
“Is there an easy solution? No,” Murphy said. “But the NCAA has created a complicated system of sponsorship and broadcast rights by which lots of adults get rich. They can figure out a way to get a percentage of that money to the students who are kept poor by a system that is designed to make lots of people rich except for the kids.”