Most people have heard the phrase “do as I say...not as I do” at some point in their life. That message is on full display when the NCAA makes rules against players benefitting financially from their athletic ability.
The NCAA, a nonprofit entity, has the primary task of ensuring fair competition between its member schools in collegiate sporting events.
But being a “nonprofit” certainly doesn’t mean the NCAA doesn’t generate any revenue — far from it. It has a disclosed a reported revenue of nearly $1 billion in each of the last several years, according to ncaa.org.
In nearly all circumstances, it is a violation of NCAA rules for student-athletes to receive compensation for their athletic talent outside of their athletic scholarship. But it appears to be okay for others to do so.
Several high-profile cases over the years have resulted in players losing eligibility for receiving improper benefits. Such infractions include selling sports paraphernalia for tattoos and allegedly signing autographs for money.
Sometimes the rules are ambiguous, as there have been several cases where schools have self-reported NCAA violations, only to be told one had not occurred.
Many argue that the “student-athlete” moniker is a fraudulent one, and perhaps “athletic student” is more apt. The emphasis has seemed to shift away from the student part of that role, focusing more on marketing athletic talent rather than making sure the player graduates with a degree.
An argument can be made, however, that UNM is ahead of the curve in terms of keeping the focus on performing in the classroom, rather than on the field or on the court. UNM has reported some of the highest GPA marks from student-athletes in several of its sports programs in recent semesters.
On the other hand, the Lobos have not had a “one-and-done” recruit in the basketball program, and the football team has not yielded an NFL draft pick since 2010. But that hasn’t stopped the NCAA and other schools from cashing in on such prospects.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has said on several different platforms that he disagrees with the way the NCAA profits from the system as currently constituted, and that their so-called manipulation borders on violating antitrust laws.
Setting aside the question of whether or not student-athletes should be paid, the fact that college athletics is big business seems indisputable. There is so much money being generated by college sports that salaries for several college coaches extend into the millions, not to mention the erection of several multi-million dollar athletic training facilities that rival that of professional sports teams.
A 2016 Business Insider article reported that the highest-paid public employee in 39 of the 50 states was a college men’s football or basketball coach — and yes, New Mexico was one of them.
College basketball’s “March Madness” has been one of the biggest money generators for the NCAA. Spring usually brings with it a lot of green in nature, but it also brings wheelbarrows of cash when the tournament tips off.
Several media outlets confirmed that the NCAA struck a $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Sports for the rights to broadcast NCAA Tournament games, as part of a 14-year contract that the parties signed in 2010.
Getting a ticket punched to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is of vital importance for individual schools, too, as the national media attention can help with branding and recruiting.
Not seeing that potential payoff is likely one of the main reasons UNM parted ways with former men’s hoops head coach Craig Neal, after he failed to earn a tournament bid following three consecutive one-and-done campaigns in the conference championship.
Money is what makes the world go around, and fans will have to wait and see if new head coach Paul Weir can right the ship for Lobo basketball. One thing seems certain — whether or not UNM is a part of it, the next time March Madness rolls around, the NCAA will be seeing plenty of green again.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler. The opinions expressed here are his own.