The Real Scandal: We Don't Fairly Compensate College Athletes

Answer this quickly: if a young man in high school develops something special, patents it, and commercializes it, licensing it to a major state university and makes $100,000 in royalties, how do you feel about him?  Do you cheer his ability to turn his talents into financial success?  How would you feel if he then went to the same state university on scholarship, combining his education with his business partnership?

Scandalized yet?

Well according to the NCAA, you should be.  At least if the “patented” talent is sports related.  In the wake of recent revelations from Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports that dozens of high school athletes received payments to bring their talents to the elite schools of Division I.[1]  And the NCAA’s response was to call this an “affront,” “systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now,” and the work of “unscrupulous parties” the NCAA must “clean up.”[2]

The Historical Basketball League (the HBL) couldn’t disagree more.

At the core, the concept of NCAA “amateurism” can be thought of as a wealth transfer.  College sports are valuable, but while Mark Emmert can earn nearly $2 million for his role in commercializing the sport, if an athlete negotiates a contract to share in the revenue he helps to generate, he can be banned for life.  The result is everyone else gets a slice of the pie that the athletes help create.  The scholarship the athlete gets is valuable, but it’s a far cry from what the true market value of those services would be if the rules did not insist that the surplus go to Emmert and other non-athletes when the market outcome would send it to the athletes themselves.

The side payments revealed by Yahoo! Sports start to paint a picture of what a star collegian might be worth.  For example, as alleged by Yahoo! “Dennis Smith, who would go on to play at North Carolina State in 2016-17, received $43,500 to … $73,500 in loans” though the loans only had to be paid back if Smith did not sign with the agency that made the loan.  Others allegedly received smaller amounts, ranging from $26,136 for Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead, to $16,000 to LSU’s Tim Quarterman, to $10,000 to future number one draft pick Markelle Fultz.

This is where you should perform a character check on yourself.  If you hear those figures and you think the scandal is that athletes sought compensation for the services, you’ve missed the point.  If you hear those figures and think the black market nature of the system meant that even the athletes who sought compensation were still underpaid, then you might be ready for the future of college sports.

That future is the HBL.  The HBL will be a professional, collegiate club-sports league operating as a for-profit corporation.  The HBL will employ college athletes to play a full summer season of basketball, and those athletes will also be enrolled as full-time students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that will make up the HBL’s membership.  These will be real students getting paid real money to help their universities generate revenue, no different than when the chemistry department pays a chemistry student to work on a new drug patent during the summer semester.

Because the HBL will be a club-sports league, the NCAA and NAIA have no regulatory power over our corporation or the HBCUs’ participation in the HBL, and so the “amateurism” ethos that treats college athletes’ labor, who are predominantly black, as unworthy of full and fair compensation, while allowing white administrators to reap the benefits will be turned on its ear.  With a summer basketball schedule and full-time employment, athletes will no longer have to choose between their education and athletics or between fair compensation and collegiate competition.

From a purely business point of view, what the NCAA wants to do is wonderful for the HBL.  We’re hoping the NCAA keeps insisting on ostracizing anyone who thinks college athletes are worth more than a fixed price scholarship.  Every time they say “you earn too much” we say “come earn what you’re worth with us.”  Every time they say it’s a scandal that the future number one draft choice earned $10,000, we say, you’re right, he should have received $100,000.

The problem with Amateurism is that it makes people confuse capitalism with controversy, business with badness.

It’s time for America to recognize that the real scandal is that athletes have to hide what they are worth or accept a fraction of their value.  The real scandal is that we hear about athletes receiving some portion of what they are worth and we think it’s a problem that must be cleaned up, rather than the first step in righting a wrong.

If you’re ready to right that wrong, come join us at today.  We’re looking for investors, big or small, for business partners, for coaches, for athletes, and for fans.  We’d like you to join us in making the world a little bit more just.  Are you ready to tell the NCAA that their days of exploiting athletes in the name of protecting athletes from exploitation are over?

Amateurism is the scandal; the HBL is the solution.