On Monday night, top-ranked Clemson will take on Alabama in the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship Game. If history is any indication, the game will attract a sizable audience: Last year’s championship game on ESPN drew 33.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in cable history.
As always, the match-up will feature coaches and executives who are rolling in riches alongside athletes, those who are risking their physical and mental well-being on the field, who are paid nothing at all.
It’s nothing new that NCAA amateurism takes advantage of the so-called student-athletes, but the inception of the College Football Playoff (CFP) last year — and the $7.3 billion, 12-year contract ESPN agreed to for the rights to air the games — has made the scheme’s stench worse than ever.
Here are a few of the most notable statistics:
- Last year, bowl games paid out over $500 million to schools and conferences.
- Power Five conferences each get paid $51 million in revenue from the CFP, and an additional $6 million if one of their teams makes it to the playoff semifinals.
- ESPN is charging $1.3 million for 30 seconds of ad space for the championship game on Monday night.
- The NCAA made nearly $1 billion in 2014, including an $80.5 million surplus.
- Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban made a $7.1 million base salary this year. He has already earned $425,000 in achievement bonuses this season, and will earn $100,000 more if Alabama wins on Monday night. His assistant coaches made a total of $5.2 million this year, and as of the 2013–14 season, his support staff made $2.66 million.
- Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney made a comparably meager $3.3 million base salary this year, but he has already earned $875,000 in bonus money, with another $100,000 possible if Clemson wins. His assistant coaches made $4.4 million this season, while his support staff made $2.48 million.
- Only 1.6 percent of college football players make it to the NFL.
According to the NCAA, however, the system worked just fine. NCAA executive vice president Oliver Luck recently said that coaches are entitled to their open-market worth, while players are not, because coaches are “adults.”
As lawyer and agent Donald H. Yee pointed out in an article for the Washington Post, amateurism isn’t just an unfair system — it’s also a racist one.
After all, who is actually earning the billions of dollars flooding universities, athletic conferences, TV networks and their sponsors? To a large extent, it’s young black men, who are heavily overrepresented in football and men’s basketball, the two sports that bring in virtually all the revenue in college athletics. A 2013 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education found that 57 percent of the football players and 64 percent of the men’s basketball players in the six biggest conferences were black; at the same schools, black men made up less than 3 percent of the overall student population.
Yee wrote that not only are the unpaid athletes in college football predominantly black, but the coaches, athletic directors, and commissioners making all of the profit off of these games are predominantly white. He suggests that the only way for things to change in the NCAA is for the players to recognize the power they have and threaten a labor stoppage.
Last year, the Missouri football team did harness their power when they came together to threaten to boycott a game because of a string of racists incidents on campus. Their threat was successful, as the president of the university resigned. The Northwestern University football team also attempted to unionize last year, but the National Labor Relations Board dismissed their petition. As of now, there is no end to amateurism in sight.
“Paying players would cost money, of course, but with billions in TV revenue coming in, it shouldn’t be impossible to find a way to spend some of it on labor instead of on exotic woods for new training facilities,” Yee said. “Fans would get over the end of the NCAA’s “amateur” status, just as they have accepted pro basketball, hockey and soccer players competing in the Olympics.”
Enjoy the championship game!
Alabama won the thrilling championship game 45–40, meaning Saban walked away with a $100,000 bonus, bringing his season haul to $7.525 million.
Perhaps even more notably, USA Today reports that Alabama’s nine assistant coaches received a combined $1.1 million in bonuses for the year. This includes strength coach Scott Cochran, who received a $92,000 bonus. Cochran’s salary this year was $420,000.
Once again, we remind you — the players were not paid a cent.