Congress

Sen. Chris Murphy calls college athlete compensation a ‘civil rights issue’

UConn fan released first in a series of reports on the college sports industry

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., calls inequity in college sports a “civil rights issue.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Basketball fans across the country are stressing over their March Madness brackets for the NCAA tournament, but Connecticut Democrat Sen. Christopher S. Murphy is instead stressing the staggering inequity in college sports that he calls “a civil rights issue.”

Murphy released a report Thursday morning, titled Madness, Inc.: How is everyone getting rich off college sports — except the players, which is the first in a series he plans to put out on the state of the multi billion-dollar collegiate athletics industry. He plans to dig into how advertisers, executives, coaches, and college administrators reap the benefits from college sports, while the athletes who are competing receive no monetary compensation.

Murphy used Zion Williamson, a likely first-round NBA draft pick and Duke University player to illustrate his point in an introduction to the report.

Williamson fell in agony in the opening moments of a game against arch rivals the University of North Carolina in February after his Nike shoe blew out. Williamson’s injury with the world watching, led to Nike’s stock dropping significantly.

“Williamson’s shoe is a symbol of what college sports has become, and what March Madness embodies,” Murphy said in the report. “Big-time college sports is a business. Everything the student-athletes do affects the bottom lines for institutions and corporations alike.”

Murphy is an avid basketball fan. His official Senate twitter account is topped with a photo of the UConn Huskies women's team in celebration.

“It’s time for the NCAA to find a way to compensate student-athletes,” Murphy tweeted Thursday morning, after the lengthy report was released. “College football & basketball have become a multi-billion dollar industry and everyone is cashing in except the players who are doing the work.”

The data in the report comes from the Education Department and is focused on football and basketball programs, which bring in the lions share of cash among university sports. Some of the numbers are staggering. College athletic programs brought in $14 billion in 2018, up from up from $4 billion in 2003. A whopping $1.2 billion pays the salaries of 4,400 “power five” coaches across the five major conferences.

“This is a civil rights issue. It’s not lost on me that the majority of executives, coaches and college administrators getting rich off this are white while the vast majority of college football and basketball players are black,” tweeted Murphy.

In 41 of 50 states, the the highest paid public employees are football or basketball coaches.

The report also points to sponsorships turning student-athletes into walking billboards. Approximately 100 million people watch March Madness, where players wearing sponsored uniforms are advertising for outfitters like Under Armor and Nike without getting any of the profits.

“We fill out brackets and fill up stadiums because the effort and devotion student athletes put into their sport is special,” the report concluded. “But these student athletes deserve more than our fanhood. They deserve to receive fair compensation for their work.”

Earlier this month Rep. Mark Walker, a former college athlete himself, introduced a bill that would let student-athletes be financially compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness in commercial products. The North Carolina Republican's proposal would change the definition of a “qualified amateur sports organization” in the tax code to prohibit the NCAA from restricting such compensation. Walker’s latest athletic feat is serving as the GOP’s starting pitcher at the annual Congressional Baseball Game.

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