The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The average NCAA basketball player is worth $212,080

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
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Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court in Oakland confirmed what everyone has suspected for some time: college football and men’s basketball are not amateur enterprises. As a result, she ruled the NCAA violates antitrust law by prohibiting athletes from being paid, but also set some limitations.

Wilken set a cap on the money the NCAA must pay athletes for the use of their names, images and likenesses so long as it allows at least $5,000 per athlete per year of competition for players at the big Football Bowl Subdivision and basketball schools. That would, at maximum, come down to $20,000 per athlete over four years. If the school does not use players’ names, images or likenesses, there would be no money to be placed in trust and an athlete would be limited to receiving the cost-of-attendance scholarship.

“The kids who are going to benefit from this are kids who don’t even know what we did today,” former athletic shoe representative Sonny Vaccaro said. “It may only be $5,000 but it’s $5,000 more than they get now.”

That’s true, but $5,000 annually per student-athlete is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars in revenue the schools generate. For example, using college revenue data from the U.S. Department of Education, the 2011-12 Kentucky men’s basketball team generated $23.2 million in revenue and had $13.7 million in expenses attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities after a 38-2 season, which equates to $250,765 per win net of expenses. That would be equivalent to $260,320 in 2014 dollars.

During the 2013-14 season the Wildcats went 29-11, led by freshman Julius Randle, who was credited with 5.9 win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player because of his offense and defense. At $260,320 per win, that puts his value to the university at more than $1.53 million. By paying him $5,000, Kentucky gets full value after just four minutes of play.

Andrew Wiggins produced 4.9 win shares for Kansas, putting his value at $904,205 based on Kansas’ financial records from 2012. If we use the $141,862 average net per win across all Division I-A schools, Wiggins’s value drops to $695,123 and Randle’s to $836,990.

But what about a less flashy school such as Baylor University, whose men’s basketball team went 26-12 and was ranked 23rd in the final Associated Press poll of the season? Their wins, when isolated from the league at large, were worth $8,186 net after expenses, which would have pegged forward Corey Jefferson, their leader in win shares (4.9), at slightly more than $40,000.

The average NCAA basketball player was worth $212,080 during the 2013-14 season, about the same as the average value of a player in his junior year.

I am not sure what the fair value for NCAA Division I-A men’s basketball players is, but based on the amount of money these programs net after expenses, $5,000 per year doesn’t seem to be close to enough.