Athletes deserve pay

Everyone’s making money on college athletes except the athletes themselves

Let’s give it up for HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the smartest and most hilarious 30 minutes of news on TV these days.

Consider a recent Sunday episode that zeroed in on March Madness. A lot of you know all about the Madness because you ditched work recently to watch your alma mater play in the annual NCAA basketball tournament.

You might have noticed the endless corporate sponsorships during the games on TV. As Oliver’s show pointed out, corporate support and TV deals are making the universities involved in the tourney, and the NCAA itself, pretty damn wealthy. Everyone’s getting paid—more than ever.

Except the athletes.

This is because, for decades, the NCAA has considered athletes in college sports amateurs. The organization says students are compensated with a college education.

But, as Oliver pointed out, many student athletes don’t have meaningful time to study during their college experience. Or they take easy degree-track courses that won’t necessarily help them after graduation. Some get injured and lose their scholarships (and incur expensive medical bills because, hey, no workers’ comp). And hardly any of the student athletes become professionals and rake in big paydays. Fewer than 2 percent, actually.

Meanwhile, universities are building new field houses, stadiums and arenas. Deans and coaches rake in seven-figure salaries. And the financial stakes keep rising.

Let’s throw student athletes some of this revenue. They may be amateurs, but they’re part of a professional money-making sports racket, and should get a paycheck to match.