Wisconsin basketball star Nigel Hayes took his protest against the NCAA to another level today. ESPN is hosting College Gameday Presented by Home Depot (remember, college sports are not about commercialism) at Wisconsin this week, which gave Hayes the opportunity to hold up the sign above. A bold statement about the NCAA's century-old model of free labor, but not an unwarranted one.
(A side note: the Venmo account shown in the sign above—perhaps a callback to a recent Venmo College Gameday sign—is not listed in Hayes' name, but rather a one "Chairface Clapperton." The account has received several payments today, and many others dating back to last year.)
Hayes was picked by the media as the the Big Ten's preseason player of the year earlier this week, and as a senior, he was chosen to represent the Badgers at Big Ten Media Days. He has already used that stage to dig into the hypocrisy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Big Ten, and his own school, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, despite claiming they don't have the money to pay their athletes.
Specifically, on Thursday, Hayes went after the NCAA's ridiculous claim that athletes are recruited to go to school and play sports merely as a hobby. From the Star-Tribune:
"We're not student athletes. We're here to play sports. Some of us are missing class to be here right now. In some respect they're making money off us right now. [Wisconsin] just changed to Under Armour, who just gave us a couple 100 million dollars. I'm sure that's not enough to pay us for our playing because that's not enough money."
The notion that schools are too broke to pay athletes is absurd. Wisconsin went from $78.9 million in athletics revenue in 2006 to $123.9 million this past year. Big Ten schools are conservatively estimated to each get $50 million from the conference starting in two years. That's nearly $20 million more than they currently get from the conference. Most universities continue to report losses, but that's because, as non-profits, they have to spend the money somewhere, so they spend it on locker room waterfalls and other gold-plated facilities.
Even if you hate the free market and think schools should be able to continue to exploit athletes, there's no denying the economics.
Expect to hear more from Hayes in the future. For almost two years, Hayes has been part of a lawsuit led by famed sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler that hopes to end the NCAA's cap on "payment" at a scholarship. He has already been deposed in that case, and as the case advances toward trial, it's likely that, as one of the Big Ten's best revenue-sport athletes, he'll become even more vocal.