Each year hundreds of student-athletes log thousands of miles and hours participating in pre-season media days, radio/TV interviews, pre- and post-game press conferences, coaches’ shows, and post-season award shows. In fact, every college football fan knows that conference media days are currently taking place all across the Nation. Conference media days serve as the official start of the highly anticipated college football season, take place in luxury hotels, and have a great festive atmosphere.
Obviously, participating in such media outreach has to be such a delight for many of those players who have an opportunity to participate. In fact, while growing up, one of my goals was to be one of those featured players representing my school at a media day. However, those slots are only reserved for a team’s best players. As a former walk-on and career back-up, I was never even close to being one of the best players. Yet, there is a blatant problem with these highly produced and lucrative media days. While everybody else who’s necessary to produce the content (hosts, directors, cameramen, grips, reporters, producers, writers, etc.) for these press conferences/events/TV shows are being well compensated for their time and talent, the most important people — those who actually make the show possible — go without monetary compensation for their time: the college stars themselves. Simply put, that is un-American.
Take for example the massive amount of attention college football super-star Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is receiving this week at the S.E.C.’s 2013 Media Conference in Hoover, Alabama. Clowney, who is considered the consensus first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, has spent the last couple of days answering hundreds of questions from dozens of media outlets. It seems to me that this impressive and engaging young man should at least receive a stipend for his time and effort helping sell South Carolina, the S.E.C. and NCAA football.
Even if one believes that, in light of the current so-called “full scholarship” pay-for-play scheme the NCAA authorizes, college players should not be entitled to share in the billions of dollars of revenue generated by their on-field labor or have the opportunity to market themselves to third parties for compensation. There is nothing in the Scholarship Agreement, the NCAA Student-Athlete Statement – Form 11-3a, or the National Letter of Intent that requires players to participate in these extra obligations and appearances on behalf of the NCAA, their university or TV networks. If these entities want student-athletes to personally participate in these for-profit events (which, by the way, oftentimes results in missed class time!), there should at least be some sort of fund set aside to compensate these student-athletes for their time and energy.
This is a clear example of what the law calls “unjust enrichment” — that is, when one party (NCAA/Universities) is unjustly enriched at the expense of another (student-athletes). A positive aspect about the unjust enrichment principle is that the claim does not require proof of any wrongdoing or crime. The very fact that the student-athletes are required or otherwise obligated to participate in money-making activities that are not expressly discussed or agreed upon in any of the scholarship documents is enough proof that these additional services require compensation. The student-athlete is owed something simply because the NCAA, universities and networks have been unjustly enriched.
No good reason exists that justifies student-athletes not being compensated for for-profit appearances or obligations that are not expressly required in the scholarships/contracts. It is certainly not that the resources are not available to provide some compensation and players like Clowney completely understand that their earning capacity is unjustly sacked by the NCAA. In fact, frustrated with his inability to monetize his fame as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel of Texas AM recently tweeted “he can’t wait to leave college station”. That is why I was not surprised when Clowney was asked if he was going to declare for the NFL draft after just his junior season and bodily stated “Yes sir!” Good for you Jadeveon!
Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.Ed., J.D., is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonsSharrock & Associates law firm, an adjunct professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and a former D-1 football player at the University of Oklahoma. He regularly writes and lectures on issues of race, sports, public policy, and social justice. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/solospeaks