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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The business of ball: working and sweating for free

College football isn’t just a sport. College football is a business. With Bret Bielema, the former head coach of the Badgers, leaving a $2.7 million salary for a $700,000 raise, we’re reminded of the amount of money that changes hands. Consider that the Big Ten generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year solely from licensing of television rights and you’ll gain insight into just how huge the industry is. The television networks make millions, the advertising agencies make millions, and the coaches make millions. There’s only one group that’s left out: the players.

The distribution of the billions of dollars of revenue generated by college football should be reformed to fairly compensate the players. To start, players should be allowed to monetize their images. As it stands now, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Department can put Montee Ball on every bus in Madison and ESPN can place him in as many television spots as they want, but Ball isn’t even allowed to endorse a sports drink. The NCAA licenses teams and their players to Electronic Arts for their popular line of college football video games, yet Ball isn’t allowed to make a penny from his own image.

This inequity is sustained by the NCAA’s insistence that the long-defunct tradition of amateurism in college sports still exists. With the winner of the Rose Bowl receiving $17 million to share with its conference, it’s evident that in college football the myth of amateurism is preserved only to prevent compensating athletes with what they would receive in a free market.

Hand in hand with the myth of amateurism is the myth of the student-athlete. Players are told that their compensation in the form of education is invaluable. Never mind that not every player receives a scholarship; star wide-receiver Jared Abbrederis played without a scholarship for three years. Instead, question how much that education is really worth. Is it close to the $2.7 million a year that was paid to Bielema? Does it even approach the quarter of a million dollars some of Wisconsin’s assistant coaches make?

 College football should kill the red herring of the student-athlete by separating the football program from the universities.

Schools could license their brands to for-profit companies that would operate each football team. Teams—no longer a division of a university—would be forced to compensate their players with real money instead of an education worth far less than the market wage.

This arrangement would also correct the embarrassment of the University of Wisconsin-Madison—one of the best academic institutions in the world—paying its head football coach more than five times what it pays its chancellor.

So consider this: The Badgers have made three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. The event generates over $50 million each year, and the players—the people subjecting their bodies to amazing physical punishment—don’t share in any of it. Then ask yourself, is this arrangement fair?

Tyler Davis is a sophomore majoring in economics. Do you love University of Wisconsin-Madison athletics? How do you feel about student athletes receiving compensation for their work? Please send all feedback  to or visit our website.

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