On April 7 the University of Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball team defeated the University of Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the NCAA National Championship, claiming its second title in the past four years.
There were plenty of headlines surrounding the game: UConn head coach Kevin Ollie’s rise to fame in just his second season, Kentucky’s incredible tournament run with a starting lineup of five freshman and rapper Drake’s support of seemingly every team that won a game.
However, there is another story concerning the Huskies that many have overlooked.
Several days before the National Championship game, UConn’s All-American point guard, Shabazz Napier, said during a press conference that there are nights he goes to sleep “starving” because he can’t afford to buy food.
“We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in. Sometimes money is needed. I don’t think you should stretch it out to hundreds of thousands of dollars for playing, because a lot of times guys don’t know how to handle themselves with money. I feel like a student athlete. Sometimes, there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities.” Napier said.
Meanwhile, on the other end, it is estimated by Forbes that UConn’s trip to the Final Four alone earned the American Athletic Conference $9.5 million.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but something isn’t adding up here.
“I don’t see myself as so much of an employee,” Napier said. “But when you see your jersey being sold … you feel like you want something in return.”
It is true that thousands of Division I athletes are given full-ride scholarships each year to cover tuition and housing.
But what happens when you need to buy groceries?
Napier is one of the rare college basketball stars who has stayed in school until his senior year, as opposed to making the jump to the NBA.
His reward for doing so is two national championship rings and, in May, a college diploma.
However, what is Napier, or any other major college athlete supposed to do when they need to cover their basic necessities?
Sit back and try to think of another business in America in which the company’s workers provide unpaid manual labor while the company’s presidents and higher-ups earn millions of dollars off of those workers?
One of the men who reaps the benefits of hard work put in by players such as Napier is NCAA president Mark Emmert, who, ironically presented the championship trophy to Napier and the Huskies, just days after he publicly said that the unionization of college athletes is “grossly inappropriate.”
According to USA Today, Emmert made $1.6 million in 2011. The average value of a college basketball scholarship? $27,923 per year.
Many will argue that a free education is enough and college athletes are already more than fairly compensated.
However, the goal of many college athletic programs isn’t to help its athletes earn a degree. In 2011, the NCAA issued a two-year tournament ban to UConn because of low academic progress rates. From 2007 to 2011, only one in 12 players graduated from Connecticut in each of the four years.
No, it’s college athletics’ goal to keep the money train rolling. That Napier is on track to receive his degree is a statistical anomaly.
Why is it that players like Napier — an athlete who has gone about his business the right way, are staying up at night hungry, while literally every other party involved is living large off the money created by college sports?
Between classes, workouts, practices, press conferences and traveling across the country for games, it’s unrealistic for a college athlete to go out and get a part-time job like the average college student would.
And they shouldn’t have to.
At the very least, student athletes deserve a portion of the revenue earned by colleges who profit off their names.
They shouldn’t be millionaires. They shouldn’t be treated as professional athletes. But they do deserve slice of the pie.