The NCAA turned to Condoleezza Rice and a committee with no players or professors to fix college basketball; it should have just turned to Nigel Hayes.
Hayes, currently playing for the Sacramento Kings, spoke with the New York Daily News about his thoughts on how the NCAA model should be amended to better distribute revenue to the players. The former Wisconsin star forward also touched on how college sports should start to reflect the economic system it exists in, and addressed the inherent racism in maintaining a model that subsidizes non-revenue sports at the expense of paying men’s basketball and football players.
At last week’s series of talks on the business of college sports hosted by Aspen Institute, Hayes revealed that he and a group of teammates considered boycotting a nonconference game against Syracuse to protest the NCAA’s continued efforts to prevent athletes from being compensated past a scholarship. In speaking with the Daily News, Hayes took things a step further, explaining how he would reform the college model to allow athletes to accept payments from private sponsors:
“I would do away with the term impermissible benefits, and with that term no longer in use, these athletes are now allowed to accept money from any party that would like to give them some. If a booster wants to give them $5,000 because they had a great game, they’re allowed to do that. If a local restaurant wants to give them dinner, they’d be allowed to do that. And by the same token, if they don’t there’s no harm, no foul.”
“And through the use of that, colleges aren’t looked at to try to finance this because you can no longer say, ‘where’s the money going to come from?’” Hayes explained. “If no one wants to give any player money, then they don’t have to. If someone does, then they can and now the NCAA doesn’t have to get involved. It wouldn’t hurt small schools because the boosters and restaurants there could do what they want, or choose not to.”
One of the many ways that athletic directors and universities have disingenuously argued that amateurism is necessary is by pointing to the slim or nonexistent profit margins in their end-of-year books. Some high-end college sports reach these slim margins by burning up money on projects like a big-ass slide or a lazy river or an unnecessarily high-tech dorm or locker room. But nearly every NCAA university member also manages this in part by shuffling revenue generated by basketball and football teams to pay for scholarship and facility payments for non-revenue college sports, like rowing, field hockey, or tennis.
“There are a lot of sports that are funded by football and men’s basketball,” he explained when discussing which sports gross the most money.
“Paying for entertainment is something that America does better than maybe anybody else in the world,” he continued. “College is no longer ‘college athletics’; it’s an entertainment outlet. And they’re entertained by two sports, football and men’s basketball. They’re the two major ones that generate billions, and the majority of the money should go to the players that play those two sports.”
Hayes didn’t mince words when he contextualized the results of this particular subsidization:
“We live in an overtly and covertly racist country, and the reason why we won’t pay college athletes is because we don’t want to pay black people money,” he explained, as those that participate in sports played predominately by white athletes (baseball, hockey, golf, and tennis) have more options to monetarily capitalize on their skills than football and basketball players do, which are dominated by athletes of color.
“Because by paying black people money you will uplift those black people out of poverty and put them on a higher level than they were,” he continued. “And by doing that, you decrease the gap between the middle class of black and white people. And by paying them, you allow them to have the resources to give themselves a better life.”
You should go read the full piece—in terms of current and former college athletes speaking sensibly on the pitfalls of NCAA amateurism, Hayes is as good as it gets. Having experienced the system as a top-level player at an major men’s basketball program, Hayes is in as good of a position as anyone to spearhead efforts to reshape college athletics. In a just world, he’d be the eventual successor to Mark Emmert.