Alabama continues to operate most lucrative plantation in the state, with Nick Saban earning millions while players get nothing

“They’re profiteering off an illegal system,” NCPA Executive Director Ramogi Huma said of coaches like Saban and Harbaugh. “This is an illegal price fixing scheme that illegally caps what players can receive.”

Evan Grossman
May 4, 2017
Alabama continues to operate most lucrative plantation in the state, with Nick Saban earning millions while players get nothing 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be highest paid college coach. (John Bazemore/AP)

Roll Tide? More like rolling in dough as the University of Alabama continues to operate the most lucrative plantation in the state.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban and his assistant coaches received massive raises recently that will make Saban the highest paid coach in the history of college sports. He's slated to make more than $11 million this year, while his assistants will earn a combined $6.5 million for overseeing the most successful slave labor operation in America.

The University of Alabama, a public school that makes more than $80 million a year from its football program, will pay its coaches a combined $17.7 million and its players nothing.

Exemplifying just how much money the school is throwing around, outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoli got a $400,000 raise and will draw a $950,000 salary, which is more than almost 50 Division I head coaches get.

Alabama players, who have also helped to turn the school's football program into a virtual ATM, will not earn a single penny for their services and sacrifices. They will receive only scholarships, doled out like one-year contracts that can be snatched away at any time. If they get hurt, they're on their own.

In fact, if any Crimson Tide player receives any kind of payment outside of tuition expenses, they would be in violation of NCAA rules. If an Alabama player had his mortgage paid off by a booster, as Saban did in 2013, the NCAA would slap the school with a mountain of sanctions so fast it would make the coaching staff's — with their school-sponsored country club and yacht club memberships — heads spin.

The Alabama raises are just the latest example of administrators, coaches and major universities getting rich and fat on the backs of an unpaid labor force.

"When you illegally take money from a workforce, that money has to go somewhere," Ramogi Huma of the National College Players Association told the Daily News. "It's gold-plating the coaches' salaries, AD salaries, even the assistant coaches' salaries. It's not just immoral, it's illegal."

Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, founded the NCPA after the NCAA suspended teammate Donnie Edwards for one game in 1995 for accepting groceries from an anonymous donor believed to have been agent Robert Troy Caron. Edwards was forced to make restitution for the groceries, which cost $150. He donated the money to a local charity.

The NCPA's stated mission is to provide the means for college athletes to voice their concerns and change NCAA rules, which clearly exploit student-athletes. The organization also advocates for player safety, an important cause as we learn more about the harmful effects of concussions and injuries suffered by college football players.

These considerations do not seem to come into the bloated salaries of college coaches like Saban's and Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, who is the second-highest paid football coach at $9 million a year. Instead they only reinforce the notion that players, despite the education they receive, are getting the short end of the stick in the big business of college sports.

"They're profiteering off an illegal system," Huma said of coaches like Saban and Harbaugh. "This is an illegal price fixing scheme that illegally caps what players can receive."

In 2014, another former UCLA athlete, Ed O'Bannon, took the NCAA to court and won when a judge ruled that not paying players violates antitrust laws. Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that schools should be allowed to offer the full cost of scholarships, living expenses and should be allowed to invest up to $5,000 each year in a trust fund that student-athletes can access after they leave school.

The NCAA appealed the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing the case last year, keeping the current system in place.

"What other group of citizens in America would you encourage to go into a system or justify them being robbed for four years?" Huma said. "This is America. This is capitalism. You're supposed to make as much money as you can legally. Everybody celebrates that, they celebrate professionals, and they celebrate being extraordinary, which these college athletes are. There's absolutely no excuse, no justification to try to defend an illegal system."

Universities don't just exploit the athletes. Regular students also help to foot the bill for athletic programs that are already wealthy enough to print money. Texas A&M students protested against a $72-a-year fee that would have helped to build a new football stadium. According to the Washington Post, in 2014 students at 32 schools paid more than $125 million in athletic fees to help finance the athletic departments of those colleges.

For all the money big-time NCAA sports bring individual schools, very little of it seems to reach the student body. At Rutgers, for example, the school charges students an annual fee of more than $300 that helps to finance its sports teams. Rutgers gets upwards of $45 million a year to be a part of the Big 10, so does it really need to go into the pockets of full-time students trying to get an education?

While students are footing the bill for these massive athletic programs what do they get in return? At Florida State, in exchange for a yearly $237 athletics fee, students get free football tickets.

Asking students to finance big-time college sports is wrong, but not paying the athletes who help to make gobs of money for places like Alabama, while fattening the wallets of coaches and administrators, is flat-out wrong.

Nick Saban

Nick Saban (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

While paying players would eliminate the amateur nature of college sports, an intriguing idea would be to pay them for their services upon graduation. The NCPA advocates for an educational trust fund to incentivize athletes to take advantage of the education opportunities they're afforded. While an education is certainly a valuable commodity, Huma scoffs at the idea that a full ride is fair compensation for all the hours and the mental and physical commitment required of big-time college athletes.

"Half those guys aren't going to graduate," he said. "In football, you flip a coin whether or not they'll graduate. The system puts over 40 hours a week in time demands on them. These players are being told they're going to have a chance to get an education. They're brought on campuses, most of the time underprepared, academically. The system piled 40 hours-plus on them per week, half of them don't graduate, but you still see the coaches making ridiculous amounts of money."

While Alabama trumpets a 75% graduation rate among its football players, those numbers are up for debate. The NCAA touts its Graduation Success Rate (GSR), but according to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina's College Sport Research Institute in 2010, those numbers are skewed because they include non-athletes and part-time students to create artificially high numbers.

The group found the graduation rates of football players at 117 FBS schools were about 54%, compared to 73.7 % of other full-time students. In 2012, UNC's institute found a 24-point gap between graduation rates of black football players and all other full-time students.

These numbers only make it harder to remove the racial argument from the debate on paying college athletes. And make no mistake: the idea of paying players, and the reluctance to do it, may hinge on race. Most college athletes are black, and new information suggests part of the argument against paying players is connected to racism.

According to a study on the racial inequities in NCAA athletics conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, black men represented 57.1% of Division I football teams and 64.3% of basketball teams, but only 2.8% of full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students between 2007 and 2010. The study also found that about half of those athletes actually graduated.

UMASS political scientist Tatishe Nteta co-authored a study this year that found most white Americans are reluctant to pay college athletes because of "racial resentment."

"We found that race was the strongest explanation of white opposition to pay for play," Ntea told NPR.

The study found evidence that "racially resentful whites who were subtly primed to think about African-Americans are more likely to express opposition to paying college athletes when compared with similarly resentful whites who were primed to think about whites. Because free-market conservatism, resistance to changes in the status quo, opposition to expanding federal power, and reluctance to endorse government redistributive policies cannot possibly explain these results, we conclude that racial resentment is a valid measure of anti-black prejudice."

To be fair, the idea of not paying college athletes hurts white players as much as it does black players. But it's not hard to see how the issue impacts more black athletes than whites.

"The color that matters is green," Huma said. "It's greed."

Adding to the hypocrisy of not paying athletes, schools are more than willing to pay other students and finance research that can benefit them. Without this system, your life would be much different.

Google was started by two Ph.D. students at Stanford University in 1996. Students Larry Page and Sergey Brin were financed through a fellowship when they created the algorithm that eventually became the ubiquitous web search engine. Google was part of a research project Stanford helped to get off the ground on a campus where researchers can earn more than $50,000 a year.

Through stock options, Stanford made more than $330 million off its investment in Page and Brin's work. If this system can exist in business, engineering, and science, then why can't it exist in athletics, too?

"That's further evidence that these same colleges that are turning their backs on their athletes," Huma said. "Saying you shouldn't be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor without an illegal system is a contradiction."

Every four years, Alabama's football team makes Google-type money for the school. More than $80 million comes into the school every year because of its players and coaches. Because of their work and sacrifice, Alabama can cash a check every four years as if it created something as big as Google on campus.

Except only a select few are getting a piece of that massive pie. The coaches get theirs. The schools take theirs. And the players who score all the touchdowns and make all the big defensive stops, and take all the risks, don't get so much as a nibble.

"They're worth much more than the price of a college scholarship," Huma said.

This week, we were reminded of just how much money schools like Alabama have to throw around. And we were reminded again, no different than when plantations across the state got rich off the unpaid work of others, the guys on the field get none of it.