BY CHRIS HAAS
Senior Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier became the face of 2014 NCAA Tournament after he carried his 7th seeded Huskies to their 4th championship. The confetti had barely landed before Shabazz gave his two-cents, because apparently any more would have bankrupted him, on the NCAA’s pay for play problem. He told reporters that “he goes to bed hungry.” He didn’t mean it as a metaphor either, he said “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”
As it turned out, Napier wasn’t the only Connecticut native who held this opinion. Connecticut Representative Matthew Lesser immediately chimed in too and his words were direct: “He says he’s going to bed hungry at a time when millions of dollars are being made off of him. It’s obscene.” The diminutive guard does look like he could have skipped a few meals, but the NCAA’s problem is much bigger and more complex than student-athlete meal plans.
How much is Shabazz Napier worth to UConn? The answer is hard to quantify because the NCAA isn’t a free market. Studies have estimated what average players are worth. For example, Businessinsider.com estimated each University of Louisville basketball player was worth around 1.6 million to the University in 2012. Businessinsider.com also estimated each University of Texas football player to be worth around 600,000 in 2012. If an average player is worth this much, what astronomical figure would the Russ Smith’s and Shabazz Napier’s of the world be making in a free market?
One study tried to quantify what Texas A &M quarterback Johnny Manziel was worth to his University and the results were staggering. Texas A & M’s donations rose from 440 million to 740 million the year after Manziel took home the Heisman Trophy. The study valued Manziels’ personal contributions to the increased exposure and donations at 37 million dollars. What if a Texas A&M student designed an iPhone App that was worth 37 million dollars? Then imagine the School saying we own 100 % of the rights to that app and if you attempt to make a dime off it we will suspend you. There would be outrage.
Manziel’s 37 million dollar valuation is easy to scoff at until one takes a glance at Major League Baseball, the league that most closely resembles a free market. The MLB doesn’t employ a salary cap for free agents, only restrictions on when a player can become a free agent. MLB stars get handed 200 million dollar deals regularly these days. In fact, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera nearly eclipsed the 300 million dollar threshold just like month. Cabrera will have to find a way to live on his new 10 year, 292 million dollar deal. Fangraphs.com estimates that Mike Trout, super-human outfielder for the Anaheim Angels, was worth a meager 50 million to his team last year. There is enough money for everyone when a sports franchise is booming.
It’s time for a more realistic approach to big time college athletics. NCAA President Mark Emmert called unionization “grossly inappropriate.” Unionization may not be the answer but it’s the NCAA’s responsibility to get this right. Disregarding big time Division 1 athletes as “amateurs” will only fly for so long.