NCPA Economic Analysis: "The Bitter Exploitation of Sweet 16 Basketball Players"

An NCPA economic analysis of Sweet 16 players' compensation finds NCAA athlete compensation limits denies the average Sweet 16 basketball player approximately $550,000 in fair market pay, and leaves many of them below the federal poverty line.

March 22, 2023

The National College Players Association (NCPA) released an economic analysis demonstrating the extreme exploitation of basketball players who will be participating in theNCAA’s Sweet 16 during this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  The NCAA is set to rake in almost $1 billion for selling media rights to broadcast Division I basketball players’ tournament games.  However, NCAA athlete compensation prohibitions deny basketball players the freedom to receive fair market value.  The NCAA limits the living allowance amounts in an athletic scholarship to “room and board” and “other” categories included in each college’s annual cost of attendance.

The NCPA’s analysis found that the average fair market value for each basketball player that will play in the Sweet 16 was $568,266 during the 2021-22 basketball season, but NCAA compensation prohibitions leave these players living on an average of only$16,652 for this school year.  The NCAA’s compensation limit denies these athletes an average of $551,614 in fair market compensation.  Much of the money thatNCAA sports denies college athletes is used to pay for multi-million dollar coaches’ salaries and luxury facilities.

The analysis also found that basketball player’s athletic scholarship living allowance on three Sweet 16 teams (Kansas State, Michigan State, and Princeton) leave them below the federal poverty line of $14,580 for 2023.  Basketball players on two other Sweet 16 teams (Creighton University and the University of Houston) have an athletic scholarship living allowance that exceeds the federal poverty line by less than $90 per year.

Executive Director Ramogi Huma stated, “The NCAA’s athlete compensation limit stands in stark, hypocritical contrast to the multimillion-dollar salaries of coaches and conference commissioners.  It is also a violation of state and federal antitrust laws.  Other Americans aren’t subject to a national compensation limit because that would be illegal.  This illegal activity is robbing athletes of generational wealth that they deserve. It’s also a racial justice issue because it creates a transfer of wealth from predominantly Black basketball players to predominantly White coaches and athletic administrators.”

The NCPA filed an antitrust complaint about NCAA Division I’s athlete compensation limit with the US Department of Justice Antitrust division last year. The NCPA also filed unfair labor practices charges against USC, the Pac-12,and the NCAA as joint employers that are being pursued by the National Labor Relations Board as well as a workplace discrimination complaint with the EEOC. TheNCPA asserts that football and basketball players are employees who deserve compensation and other labor protections. Perhaps the most efficient avenue for change is current NCPA-sponsored California legislation, “The College Athlete Protection Act” (AB 252), which would ensure a path for California athletes to receive fair market compensation.  The bill is similar to a California law that was co-sponsored by the NCPA and lead to dozens of states ensuring their college athletes’ freedom to earn pay for use of their name, image, and likeness.  State legislation is a proven avenue to address unjust and illegal NCAA athlete compensation limits.

California Assemblymember and former San Diego State basketball player Chris Holden, who authored The College Athlete Protection Act, stated,“As a former San Diego State basketball player, I am proud that the team made it to the Sweet 16. However, I am dismayed that the players in the Sweet 16 are taken advantage of financially. Like other American citizens, college athletes have the right to benefit financially without being subject to an industry’s nationwide compensation limit.  The College Athlete Protection Act will ensure that California’s college athletes are treated fairly in both the academic and business aspects of college sports.”

This analysis piggybacks off of a study co-authored by Huma and Professor of Sports Media at Ithaca College Dr.Ellen Staurowsky entitled “How the NCAA's Empire Robs Predominantly Black Athletes of Billions in Generational Wealth”. 

Download "The Bitter Exploitation of Sweet 16 Basketball Players"

Living allowance compensation in the analysis was calculated by adding “room and board” and “other”data reported by colleges to the US Department of Education.  Fair market value is calculated as 50% of men’s basketball revenue (reported by colleges to the US Department of Education)divided by 13 (the maximum number of Division I men’s basketball scholarships allowed by the NCAA).  The analysis sets50% of total revenue as aggregate fair market compensation because players in the NBA, WNBA, and NFL receive approximately 50% of their respective league’s total revenue.