“If you think about how many hours you put in of practice, weightlifting and everything for the amount of hours you are actually playing the sport, there are times you feel it is a job and at times it just sucks, it really just sucks,” said senior pitcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Anthony Milazzo.
Imagine for a moment working numerous hours a week for a company while your peers put in a fraction of the time you do. Now take into consideration that despite working abundant hours, you aren’t being paid. This is the gist of the exposure that collegiate athletes are facing as their talents have generated millions of dollars for their respected institutions. This issue has been ongoing for several decades, yet the NCAA has yet to make any significant ground with their athletes.
“Not to say [the coaches]don’t care about your personal life or school work, but they really control your schedule and tell you when to plan your classes,” said former guard for the American University basketball team and current consultant for National Collegiate Scouting Association, Steven Luptak. “I talk to families on a daily basis that are going from the high school to college transition and I tell them up front, especially at the D-1 level it really is like a full time job.”
College, for all, is a time of adjusting. For an athlete, like Elmhurst College junior linebacker Anthony Beltrano, managing it all and keeping up with your school work is a difficult task to master.
“Obviously if you’re taking time away, you are going to lose time for academics but it comes with experience,” said Beltrano. “As a freshman, even sophomore, you’re really swimming in the water trying to figure out ways to survive and get everything done.”
Much like Beltrano, Luptak felt being an athlete gave him a disadvantage in his education. “There’d be times I’d be pretty stressed out from school and I’d tell myself if I was just a regular student then I don’t think I’d be getting this stressed out,” said Luptak. “I knew my peers only had an hour or two of classes a day and the rest of their day could get their work done, while I’d usually have from 8PM-10PM to get my work done, otherwise I’d have to stay up late.”
One of the most misleading things people think about athletes is what their schedule really looks like. Many tend to believe that it’s just a matter of a few practices a week followed with a couple games. Luptak was well aware of this misconception.
“People look at us and think we only have two to three hours of practice a day,” said Luptak. “It was usually one to two hours before practice to get ready and two to three hours of stuff to get done after practice.”
The time commitment to the university is something that most athletes still feel unappreciated for. Schools have continued to raise a profit off of selling a players’ jersey or other merchandise and not paying the athlete anything. This happens because the NCAA still has yet to prohibit rules against it, despite the constant controversy. At the University of Illinois, Milazzo feels steps are being taken to support their athletes, but admits proper compensation has yet to be mandated.
“Illinois has instituted a dining center specifically for all of their athletes,” says Milazzo. “A perk like that is a step into kicking back some of the money to the athletes.”
The money being brought in most often goes to the contracts of the academic coaching staff and also helps fund the academics at the university. However, the million-dollar question remains to be; how can the NCAA come up with a way to compensate their athletes?
The NCAA has made small steps in helping their athletes thrive financially by allowing schools to provide a stipend of a few thousand dollars for “the cost of attendance”, but just recently on Oct. 3 the Supreme Court refused to hear a case regarding athletes trying to get a college athletes income unrestricted.
Last year in 2016, the court ruled that a college would be allowed to restrict what an athlete makes to purely tuition and cost of attendance. But these athletes are not going to give up that easily.
After hearing over and over how unfair athletes are treated it’s easy to ask; if it’s so bad why do they go through with it? The reason is simple—they have no choice. If athletes want to play professionally, they are forced to either go to college or move out of the country and play professionally overseas.
“At 18 years old you can serve for your country, what’s the purpose of athletes going to school for one semester athletes who are one and done in basketball or capable of playing in the NFL after high school?” said Beltrano. “You can’t tell me these athletes are getting the most out of going to class for one year. If guys are ready, why not let them make their money?”
Allowing athletes to enter the professional level whenever they are desired by the league would also eliminate one of the biggest issues in the NCAA: the sale of jerseys and other merchandise. The controversy has heated up in the past few years with players like Johnny Manziel and Dez Bryant but is most remembered dating all the way back to 1992 and 1993 with the University of Michigan’s Fab Five.
The Fab Five team helped Nike trademark baggy basketball shorts and black playing socks but the star of the team, Chris Webber, was most disappointed with his jersey being sold everywhere for $75-$100 and not receiving a single profit for it.
“I definitely feel the process that is currently in place isn’t necessarily the best,” said Luptak. “It’s not like people want to get a number four Michigan jersey because it’s their favorite number they want to get it because it’s Chris Webber. The institution profits all that money based on his performance.”
Even though problems continue to occur, it seems the NCAA hypocrisy on their view of athletes will continue to be over-looked for time to come.
“It’s clearly not fair when the NCAA says it’s all about the sport and getting your education, when these institutions are turning a large profit off of their student-athletes”, said Luptak.
The life of an athlete faces many bumps and bruises but perhaps none more significant than their instant defeat to the NCAA.
“If you talk about exposure, the NCAA may be the biggest powerhouse of it, based off of their ability to continue making money off of their athletes,” said Beltrano.
Mitch Reid contributed to this story.