NCAA

Do College Basketball Players Have to Pay for Their Shoes?

College athletes get perks from their universities, including free footwear. While some privileges are more than the average student receives, it’s not enough considering the amounts of money colleges earn thanks to players. As the NCAA and its schools rake in the cash, the argument for paying student-athletes grows stronger.

The case for paying college players

The debate began decades ago, but the answer is clear: Student-athletes deserve to be paid. The NCAA is swimming in money — the organization made $933 million in revenue last year, according to Investopedia. While the players get far too little for their work.

The money comes in from TV rights, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and advertisements. According to USA Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert reportedly makes nearly $3 million a year. Schools use funds to pay coaches, upgrade facilities, and impress potential recruits. But giving the money straight to the players is still against the rules.

Any system where the workers are being taken advantage of needs to be scrapped and reworked. As famous as Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari are, no one tunes in to a basketball game to watch coaches yell from the sidelines. Most of the value in college sports comes from the players.

The rules the NCAA uses to defend the status quo were made in 1955 — decades before college sports were billion-dollar industries, in order to protect colleges from paying workers’ comp for athletes. Even the man who created the strategy, Walter Byers, eventually argued that the model was outdated.

Some argue that student-athletes are paid through scholarships and the privilege of being the big men/women on campus, but these things aren’t exclusive to the sports world nor are they currency. No one tells aspiring doctors, lawyers, or journalists that they’re not allowed to make money because they have an upper-class career path.  

Something needs to change. Players are increasingly vocal about wanting to be paid, and the current one-and-done rule satisfies no one. The info makes it clear that college players deserve to get paid.

At least the players get to dress themselves

Of course, being a college athlete comes with significant perks. Each player gets free clothes and sneakers from the brands that sponsor the teams, as The New York Times explains. The only catch: The NCAA forbids them from selling the apparel, but they can give it away to whomever they want.

It’s a win-win situation. College kids get a bunch of free gear, and the brands get to turn young stars into walking advertisements for their products. These relationships can also lead to athletes signing deals with those brands once they become professionals. 

Restrictions still exist within those privileges. The players can only wear shoes from the brand that sponsors the school. All Duke players must wear Nikes, for example. But free stuff is always popular, even if it’s not nearly enough payment for what they bring on the court. 

Will the NCAA change its tune?

Slowly but surely, the NCAA has made moves to allow players to make money in college. In 2019, the organization’s board of governors voted to allow student-athletes to make money off of their own names and likenesses, according to CNN.

This is a big step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. This rule change only helps the top players who have star power that attracts sponsors and attention. It does little for players who aren’t famous enough to be recognizable.

The changing mentalities of high-school players may force the NCAA’s hand. Highly touted basketball recruits like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton eschewed college altogether and went overseas to play professionally. If more players follow in their footsteps, then the NCAA will struggle.

There’s also the chance that the NBA waives its age limit and lets high-school players enter the draft immediately. The best way to get the next Zion Williamson in college? Let him earn a paycheck while he’s there.