2020 showed us why unpaid teenagers can’t be the foundation of college sports anymore

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We are left hoping and praying that Florida’s Keyontae Johnson (right) won’t become the cautionary COVID-19 tale we’ve too long ignored.
We are left hoping and praying that Florida’s Keyontae Johnson (right) won’t become the cautionary COVID-19 tale we’ve too long ignored.
Image: AP

Sooner or later, it all comes crashing down.

The house of cards known as college athletics has always had cracks in its foundation. It’s a skyscraper that a short-sighted architect created. Faulty wiring and cheap materials were used to construct it, and unpaid workers were forced to build it.

During the 2016-2017 school year, the NCAA made history when it brought in $1 billion in revenue and has remained at that mark, or near it, since. When it happened, it initially raised eyebrows. How could a non-profit organization that “governs” college sports bring in that much?

Schools make their money off tickets, television deals, conference alignments/payouts, and merchandise, making it a little easier to understand how they generate millions each year, but the NCAA?


What do they even do?

The answer is nothing, and 2020 has proven that.

Did the NCAA come up with a plan to safely play college basketball?


They’re trying to have the entire NCAA tournament in a “bubble” in Indianapolis, and just announced they’re planning the same for San Antonio on the women’s side.


Did the NCAA do anything to protect college football players?


Conferences and teams are just flying by the seats of their pants doing all they can to finish a season so that they can bring in as much television revenue as possible, as ticket sales are nonexistent outside of a few schools.


In a year that’s felt like it’s lasted forever, it’s quite easy to forget about all the things that have transpired.

Here’s a refresher.

The Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) Movement

The NCAA is doing everything it can to limit how much, and how, college athletes can make money. According to the Los Angeles Times, over 30 states have introduced some kind of legislation in favor of the NIL movement. However, the NCAA’s plan will get voted on in January, and if passed could go into effect in August of 2021.



Before the college football season started players called for a union, as the season at the time was up in the air. They wanted to play, but safely. They also wanted more say in how things work. The two biggest names behind the call to action were Heisman Trophy front-runners Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Ohio State). Both players posted this on social media in August.


Since then, things have gone silent. Trevor Lawrence missed some games due to testing positive for the coronavirus, and Fields plays for the team that’s been at the heart of the conversation about playing the sport during a global pandemic, as at least 135 games have been postponed or canceled this season, according to CBS Sports.


Racial Issues:

For everything that 2020 will, and won’t be, remembered for, race may wind up being its legacy. And in college sports, the curtain was pulled back on just how much racism runs rampant.


Mike Gundy revealed to us that he thought that his team full of Black players could “fight off” COVID-19 “with their natural bodies,” because football needed to be played to help the economy in Oklahoma. Former Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers resigned after a former Black player alleged that the coach told him “I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck.” There are multiple allegations of Dabo Swinney using the N-word, while schools like Iowa and Wisconsin have been linked to multiple instances where current and former players have alleged toxic racial atmospheres. And those are just a few of the instances that happened this year.

This is where we are in college athletics, and with only a few weeks left in the year, it doesn’t feel like things are getting better.


Michigan’s football season is finally over after COVID-19 canceled its last three games. Gonzaga, the No. 1 team in college basketball, has already had five games canceled or postponed this season. And when Coach K at Duke decided to shut down the rest of his non-conference schedule so that his players could see their families for the holiday, he was mocked by other coaches and many in the media for suggesting that the sport take another look at how they were playing during a pandemic, all because his program lost games to better teams early in the season.


And then Florida’s Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game, and now we’re all left hoping and praying that he won’t become the cautionary COVID-19 tale we’ve too long ignored.

If you haven’t noticed, many schools around the country have canceled fall graduations due to COVID-19, yet, football and basketball games are still being played.


Universities don’t make millions off live-streaming commencement services.

And that is the issue.

We’ll tune in to watch unpaid teenagers generate millions and billions of dollars on the football field and basketball court, but don’t do the same when it’s time for them to walk across a stage.


A system with that foundation was never built to last. And as we’ve seen this year, it’s one that needs to be demolished and properly constructed.