The latest episode of Fault Lines tackles the business of college sports, a multi-billion dollar industry that relies on the performances of athletes who are paid little beyond the scholarships many of them earn to attend school. For instance, these athletes typically do not get long-term health care, despite what they, especially football players, put their bodies through to be on the team.
Many of the limits on what student-athletes are entitled to are outlined in the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Violations of NCAA rules can lead to players being suspended and teams losing scholarships they can offer to recruits or being barred from certain competitions.
Several efforts are underway to prompt the NCAA to relax its rules on the benefits that student-athletes can receive. In "State of Play: Football Players and the NCAA," we investigate three fronts in the fight to make college football more equitable.
As part of the reporting of that film, Fault Lines sent several questions to the NCAA, asking for comment on several topics, including how the organization distributes its growing revenues from TV contracts, how it protects the health of student-athletes and its stance on the Northwestern football team's attempt to unionize. We received the following statement from the NCAA:
The NCAA and its 1,100 member colleges and universities are committed to providing opportunities for student-athletes to compete in college while pursuing their educations. There are more than 460,000 student-athletes competing in collegiate athletics, and the great majority of them will go pro in something other than sports. Only about 2 percent of collegiate athletes will go pro in their sports.
For many of these student-athletes, attending college might not have been possible without collegiate athletics. NCAA research indicates that approximately 15 percent of Division I student-athletes are first-generation college students. For Division II, that number is even higher.
NCAA schools give approximately $2.7 billion in scholarships each year. Beyond that, campus athletics departments spend significant resources each year on providing top-notch equipment, academics and athletics facilities, tutoring services, travel and meals for student-athletes. Last year, 23 schools made more money than they spent on athletics. The rest depend on the distributions of NCAA revenues to be able to continue to provide those opportunities.
The NCAA earns most of its revenue from television and marketing rights fees, mostly from the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. You can learn about how exactly those funds are redistributed here.
Division I schools received $188.3 million from the NCAA last year alone to assist with sports sponsorship and scholarships for student-athletes. They received an additional $25.1 million earmarked specifically for academic assistance for student-athletes. Student-athletes also have access to the Student Assistance Fund, which budgeted more than $73 million last year for helping student-athletes with a variety of costs, including emergency travel, summer school fees, clothing and other essentials, and academic supplies.
For approximately three years, NCAA member schools have been working to enhance the student-athlete experience and support their success in the classroom, on the field and in life. Additional steps were taken on April 24 when the Board of Directors endorsed a plan to provide autonomy to larger conferences so they can address student-athlete insurance, scholarship guarantees, and stipends, among other things.
Division I is also examining its governance structure.
In 2013, the Division I Board of Directors formed a Steering Committee, chaired by Wake Forest President and board chair Nathan Hatch. All subdivisions are represented on the committee. The goal of the steering committee is to create a governance structure that is simpler, easier to navigate and allows for more participation opportunities for key decision-makers. It will also give a place at the table – and a vote – to student-athletes for the first time. A commitment to finding solutions to better support student-athletes unites all members of Division I and remains the focus of the restructuring effort moving forward. A key element of the current plan will allow some schools, those in the five major conferences, the autonomy to make rules that will allow them to spend their resources to benefit student-athletes.
In January 2013, the NCAA created the Sports Science Institute, which is working to create a number of task forces focused specifically on the health and safety of student-athletes. These task forces include noted national experts on various topics. SSI also offers grants to NCAA member schools for research and campus-wide alcohol education programs.
As far as health insurance is concerned, the NCAA requires all student-athletes to have health insurance. For those who are not already on their parents’ plans, they have access to the Student Assistance Fund, which can be used to purchase a plan. Schools also have the option of paying for their student-athletes’ insurance.
The NCAA also offers catastrophic injury insurance and exceptional student-athlete disability insurance programs to student-athletes, which you can learn more about here.
You might have also seen the recent news about the NCAA’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense on a $30 million joint study about concussions, specifically as it relates to members of the armed forces and student-athletes. You can learn more about this partnership and the NCAA’s work on concussions here.
Finally, while the NCAA is not a party to the Northwestern unionization effort, you can find our most recent statement on that topic below, attributable to chief legal officer Donald Remy:
“We stand for all student-athletes, not just those who play football and receive a scholarship. Whatever concerns or issues one may have with college athletics, turning student-athletes into employees and changing the relationship between students and their universities is certainly not the answer. For nearly three years, NCAA member schools have worked on specific proposals designed to enhance the student-athlete experience and support their success in the classroom, on the field and in life.”
It is the state of tort law around the country that an organizer of sporting events – any organizer – is not the legal guarantor of safety to those participating in a sport. However, the Association has consistently passed rules and policy, as well as equipment standards, to address student-athlete health and safety. The NCAA also has been recognized for its educational materials, best practices and resources available to our members and to the student-athletes. The NCAA has a firm commitment to the health and safety of its student-athletes dating back to its creation as an organization.
SA’s must becleared by a medical professional before returning to play or practice following a concussion diagnosis. Also, I recommend you check out the following [on sports-related concussion].