Immediately before the commencement of the 2017 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament final between North Carolina and Gonzaga, sports commentator Dan Dakich engaged in a strongly-worded Twitter exchange with former Wisconsin and current NBA player Frank Kaminsky. Dakich derided the idea that college athletes are exploited, to which Kaminsky responded that Dakich had no idea what he's talking about. Dakich then launched into various acrimonious attacks calling Kaminsky "clown" and "son". Dakich also continued making other largely antagonistic comments that are the province of those whose position has been exposed as tenuous at best, yet choose to defend it with ad hominem attacks rather than facts.
I decided to write this not because Dakich deserves any attention, because he does not, but rather because the arguments he used to "support" his position are simply false. Unfortunately, many treat these arguments as persuasive, rather than disregarding them as the "alternative facts" they are. In short, Dakich argues that college athletes are not exploited, they're paid, and have no value beyond that granted to them by wearing their respective schools' jersey. Of course, anyone with the most basic understanding of sports realizes Dakich's claims are nonsense. So, let's look at each of Dakich's comments and compare them with the facts.
1. Dakich claims college athletes only work 20 hours per week. The exchange started with this Dakich tweet: "NCAA..only place 18-24 yr old Athletes make $20,000 to $60,000 for 20 hr a week work only 8 hrs work in the summer months and r "exploited".
This is a common falsehood perpetuated by those who pay little attention to actual data. The "20" hours comes from the NCAA's rule that mandatory activities not exceed 20 hrs/week. The problem with relying on this figure is that it ignores the fact that athletes have to spend much more time than this, because many of their activities involved athletics yet do not count as a Countable Athletically Related Activity, or CARA. Here's the evidence:
a) In the O'Bannon v. NCAA case, NCAA President Mark Emmert was questioned by Bill Isaacson, attorney for the Plaintiffs regarding a document prepared by the NCAA's own former vice president and senior policy advisor, Wally Renfro. The NCAA document states:
O'Bannon v. NCAA transcript at 1886-1887.
"WE KNOW FROM A COUPLE OF SURVEYS WE HAVE DONE... STUDENT ATHLETES SPEND AS MUCH 45 HOURS A WEEK ON THEIR SPORT, MORE THEY SAY IN SOME CASES THAN THEIR ACADEMICS.
WHAT DO WE WANT TO SAY ABOUT THIS? I'M TORN. WE HAVE A 20-HOUR RULE FOR STRUCTURED ACTIVITY. WE HAVE A WINK-AND-A-NOD APPROACH TO VOLUNTARY ACTIVITY."
b) Here is the evidence directly from NCAA's own surveys. The following is from a presentation the NCAA's Chief Medical Officer, Brian Hainline, made at an ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) Symposium. As the chart below shows, FBS athletes spend over 40 hours a week on athletic activities, and men's basketball players spend nearly 40.
But, what about the claim that athletes only spend 8 hours on their sport in the off-season? The data also refute this claim. Approximately 70% of MBB and FBS athletes report spending as much or more time on athletic activities in off-season than in-season. Of course, this number may drop in the summer months, though many athletes remain at their school for summer classes where they also engage in frequent unscheduled and unsupervised practices. See below:
Further, the NCAA reported in its Division I Time Demands Study, Summary of Findings, April 1, 2016 that head coaches' interests do not align those of college athletes:
These time demands have consequences. Hainline's presentation showed that prescription drug usage among NCAA athletes increased from 2009 to 2013, with nearly a quarter of athletes using pain medication either with (18%) a prescription or without (5.8%) in 2013. Perhaps more worrisome is that more athletes use ADHD medication without (8.8%) a prescription than with (5.8%) one.
2. Dakich claims athletes "get a check" so they're paid, saying "That's complete crap..I got a check 30 yrs ago my son gets a check..lotsa $$$ in that check."
From a simple economic point of, his argument is nonsense. Yes, athletes can receive "a check" in addition to their cost-of-attendance, generally in the form of a Pell Grant payment. This is NOT a payment from the school or anyone else in exchange for the services they provide to the school. This amount is currently up to $5,920, a mere pittance compared to the actual benefit the school receives from athletics. As I noted previously in a tweet, P5 schools alone earned $53 BILLION in revenues between 2003-2004 and 2014-2015. Now, before anyone claims that "they also spend a lot", consider where schools spend these funds: lazy rivers, enormous facilities, massive coach salaries, all of which indicates that there is more than enough to pay college athletes for their services.
Thus, simply the fact that athletes receive some payment does not mean it is a fair payment in exchange for their services. How many coaches would accept living in a dorm, receiving meals, and maybe a year's supply of free television as fair compensation for their services? I'd expect not a single one. All of their payments are based on market rates, the same market rates athletes demand should be used to compensate them.
3. Dakich claims athlete images are worth nothing without the school name, tweeting: "Clown..read my tweets..who has said anything about image btw ur "image" without WISCONSIN jersey is currently worth 0 zip nada."
Dakich's puerile commentary aside, his claim is entirely false. His risible claim would mean, for example, Ben Simmons name, image, and likeness (NIL) would have had no value beyond that created by his LSU jersey. So, then, why was he the #1 pick in the NBA draft? Why was he sought-after for endorsements if his image was only worth something because of LSU? The same questions can be asked of Michael Jordan, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, etc. Moreover, by Dakich's "logic", Lebron James image worth nothing when he was in HS.
Which brings us to the high-school issue. High school recruits have value even before they enter into college, as evidenced by the fact that college spend enormous sums recruiting them and attempting to entice them to attend their respective schools. Jim Harbaugh famously spent over $10k per day on jet costs for recruiting trips during a 12-day period. Schools, like Central Florida most recently, spend on lavish facilities, including a lazy river to attract recruits.
Moreover, shoe companies battle over top high school recruits, using trips to the Bahamas or other inducements to establish relationships that may translate into future post-collegiate endorsement deals. Thus, it is clear that athletes have value before, during, and after college. As such, it is abundantly clear that the value of a top recruit lies far less with what is written on the front of the jersey than what is written on the back.
For example, consider prep basketball phenom, Zion Williamson, whose dunks have already become the stuff of Internet legend and who is sought after by virtually every top program who has an inkling of hope they may land him. Is there a single person, perhaps other than Dakich, who would claim that Williamson's jersey would only take on value once a school's name appears on the front? It is abundantly clear that the value of the name of the sports program is buttressed by the fact that top athletes have their names on the back. It is no different in the NBA or any other professional league. Would Lionel Messi's jersey's value drop to zero if he were to leave Barcelona for Chelsea? Of course not.
4. Dakich claims playing basketball or sports isn't really work: "Working ur ass off" isn't playing basketball or lifting weights in my world..Mill work,construction etc is to me ..I've done both not close"
So, let's educate Mr. Dakich. The idea that what college athletes do is work is not novel. In fact, the 1929 Carnegie Foundation report “American College Athletics” noted, “He [the college athlete] works (for it is work, not play) under paid professional coaches..." (Howard J Savage, Harold W. Bentley, John T. McGovern, & F. Dean, American College Athletics (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Bulletin Number 23, 1929). As noted here, college athletes labor over 40 hours per week so their respective schools can make millions in revenues. College athletes suffer injuries, often life-threatening, concussions, etc. all in the course of promoting their school. In return, they receive cost-of-attendance for one year. As was evidenced in the UNC scandal, the promise of an education can be an empty shell, as former athletes now suing UNC, which has admitted to "long-standing" academic fraud, found out.
Further, whether college sports is "work" to Dan Dakich, or whether he thinks athletes deserve compensation in exchange for their services is entirely irrelevant. If he and Doug Gottlieb, who claimed "Name and likeness guy is having a tough tournament. People can't pick out "stars" from a line-up. Tourney is on fire due to bracket/brands," think that college athletes truly have no value beyond that created by the school, remove the restriction and let's test that hypothesis. This is how the scientific process works. Of course, there would be no reason for the NCAA to incur millions in legal fees to protect "amateurism" if the same results could be obtained without imposing the restraint against direct compensation. Further, one may not think that making YouTube videos of Minecraft games is work, yet, as anyone with young kids likely knows, YouTuber Dan Middleton (Dan TDM) has become so popular, he's practically a member of everyone's family (including ours!). The issue is not whether one thinks another person's labor is work or not, but whether the market is willing to pay for that labor. Of course, we all know the athletes' labor is valued, as Ben Simmons, who said that during his college time at LSU, he was offered a “Bentley, a Wraith Rolls-Royce, watches, jewelry, a house . . . anything. It literally is anything. People coming at you, offering you things" all of which he was not permitted accept or risk losing his eligibility. This is a clear indication that he has value. Otherwise, why would anyone want to pay him directly, rather than paying the school, if the entire value can be ascribed to the name in front of the jersey? Simply put, athletes have enormous value, and it is their value that drives the school's brand. Has Michael Jordan not raised UNC's value? Do schools not use the names of their top players, who have gone on to professional success, to advertise?
5. Dakich claims athletes are doing well because they have money for tattoos and a dog: "Yeah? How do they afford the tats? Big ones across the chest and back! How do they afford having a dog? You have been lied to"
This is a common argument used to stir up resentment not only against athletes, but poor people in general. I don't intend to get into the politics of Dakich's insensitive and ridiculous argument, but this sort of illogical babble deserves to be addressed.
This sort of "logic" is grounded on the presumption that poor people must "act poor" to be recognized as such. As noted before, many college athletes do receive Pell Grant to help with expenses and to allow them to at least be normal college students to some degree. Just because they get a tattoo or go out on a date, or dare to have a pet does not obviate the reality that they are exploited. Nothing requires college athletes to live as hermits in order to placate the likes of Dan Dakich. But, let's look at this from a purely economic standpoint.
In economic damages cases, the standard for calculating lost profits is called the "but-for" standard. In other words, absent the alleged "bad act" by the defendant, what would the Plaintiff's profits have been? Those are called the "but-for" profits, from which the actual profits are subtracted to arrive at lost profits, i.e., damages. The damaged Plaintiff does not have to earn ZERO profits in order to be damaged. Nor do the Plaintiff's profits have to be declining in order to make a claim that it has been damaged by the alleged actions of the defendant. The standard is simple: what is the difference between but-for and actual profits?
In the case of athlete compensation, what is the difference between what athletes currently receive under the NCAA's "amateurism" restraint on trade and what they otherwise would earn "but-for", or absent the restraint? This is what the athletes have lost because of the restraint. The standard is not what ad hoc amount a TV commentator or radio personality thinks athletes are worth vs. what they receive. While such a "standard" may gain some traction among those ill-informed about the actual plight of college athletes, it is based on nothing except opinion, without any sort of economic justification.