Friday night marks “Marquette Madness” and the beginning of Marquette Athletics’ most lucrative sport— basketball.
It’s no secret the university
is home to two winning, profitable basketball programs. In 2011, the men’s basketball program alone generated $13.4 million in revenue. Forbes calculated that the program generated 63 percent of Marquette men’s sports revenue that year.
Those profits are not listed item by item, but they stem from ticket sales, jersey sales, media broadcasts and paraphernalia sales.
As the athletics department gears up for another season, the NCAA is gearing up for a fight over revenue like the millions of dollars Marquette athletes generate every year.
Student athletes challenged the NCAA and its affiliates for making obscene amounts of money from players’ likenesses. The original class action lawsuit, O’Bannon v. NCAA, began three years ago with student-athlete plaintiffs led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon on one side and the NCAA, the Collegiate Licensing Company and video game developer EA Sports on the other.
O’Bannon and company believe student-athletes should be paid for using their likenesses – autographs, jersey numbers, film clips and TV appearances. Meanwhile, the NCAA believes student-athletes should be grateful for the education and exposure that is afforded to them.
Last week EA Sports and the CLC backed out of the lawsuit, leaving the NCAA to fight for the revenue generated by broadcasting games. EA Sports announced it will stop producing collegiate sport video games. Athletes will no longer worry about EA Sports profiting from a virtual player that looks, performs and has stats just like them.
The NCAA is willing to appeal a pro-O’Bannon ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would significantly change collegiate sport revenue at programs like Marquette.
A student should be allowed to profit off of his or her own likeness, whether an autograph, highly-recognized jersey number or a suspiciously similar virtual quarterback. If the NCAA would just allow student-athletes to own licensing rights while they are students, cases like Johnny Manziel’s or Terrelle Pryor’s could have been avoided.
Texas A&M’s Manziel and Ohio State’s Pryor both allegedly accepted gifts in exchange for autographs. Manziel got a half-game suspension and a lot of bad press. Pryor and his teammates caused the NCAA to launch an investigation that ended with a team bowl-season suspension and the early retirement of the team’s head coach.
Some, such as Jim Monks, a professor of economics at the University of Richmond, argue that because of this, student-athletes should be paid just like professional athletes. However, this isn’t necessarily accurate. Just because student-athletes don’t receive a salary doesn’t mean they don’t receive compensation in scholarships, recognition or free swag.
At Marquette alone, student-athletes have access to practice gyms, weight rooms and suites not open to most students, according to the Marquette Athletics website. The Eagle’s Nest Academic Center provides student-athletes with an additional study space and tutoring staff. Student-athletes also have priority scheduling to better accommodate practice times. And, according to the Marquette website, “partial to full scholarships are offered in all varsity sports.”
So student-athletes do receive benefits, albeit sometimes not enough to offset losing out on part-time jobs or internships.
Their status as students, then athletes, sometimes leaves student-athletes in less-than-desirable situations. Some are in financial situations that would merit a part-time job; instead they are a full-time athlete. One ESPN story cited a college basketball player who was suspended for accepting grocery money from an agent because he had no spending money despite being a popular, well-known player who would have made a lot on his own jerseys or autographs.
If students were allowed to profit from their likeness, this could offset basic living expenses and thus counteract not being able to hold a part-time job.
Additionally, if students are able to profit from their personal collegiate success, they can save that money later in life to support themselves and family. Not all athletes go pro, and even if they do, not all the pro athletes earn the millions of dollars a year high-profile athletes with endorsements do.
NCAA basketball season may be upon us, but resolving the issue of compensating student-athletes looks like it will not be. Students should be able to profit from their likenesses, although a possible out-of-court settlement with the NCAA suggests the issue may remain unresolved until another lawsuit is filed.