NCAA ‘Cartel’ Cost Black Athletes $17 Billion Since 2005, Study Says

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A recently published article in a prominent antitrust economics journal claims that the NCAA’s prohibitions on college athletes receiving money to play has resulted in black football and men’s basketball players losing out on $17 billion in compensation over the last 15 years.

The study in the Antitrust Bulletin, authored by economists Ted Tatos and Hal Singer, comes at a point when the moral and legal justifications of amateurism have already been vivisected by Supreme Court justices, lawmakers and athlete activists.

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The conclusions drawn in Tatos’ and Singer’s article, which was not peer-reviewed, add to the pressing debate over whether name, image and likeness monies are sufficient in making the college athlete financially whole. Tatos and Singer suggest not.

“Under an illusory nexus to intercollegiate athletics in the United States represents a multibillion-dollar enterprise that extracts economic rents from the majority Black athlete labor to the benefit of overwhelmingly White constituencies,” the authors write.

Through the “aegis of amateurism,” Tatos and Singer write that the NCAA’s “wage-fixing cartel” deprived black revenue-sport athletes for Power Five schools of an average $1.2 billion per academic year between 2005 and 2019.

The study calculates an expected revenue share for college athletes based on the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement, which allocates roughly half of the league’s revenue to player salaries.

A similar methodology has been employed by other academics, such as Southern Utah sports economist David Berri, in his much-discussed 2016 article for the Marquette Sports Law Review. Berri found that, based on their minutes played, the total economic value of the 12 members on Duke’s 2014-15 national championship men’s basketball team was more than $16.8 million—with six Blue Devils worth seven figures at the time.

Using compensation and demographic data, Tatos and Singer found that 83% of NBA salaries for the 2020-21 season (or nearly $3 billion) accrued to black players. Meanwhile, the net “pay share” of all college football and men’s basketball players—the combined book value of their grants-in-aid—has averaged around 11% of the total revenues earned by Power Five athletic departments.

“Although White coaches are the most visible beneficiaries of this anticompetitive restraint,” the authors write, “the scope of amateurism’s interracial distributional effects has largely remained uncovered.”

While coaching salaries have ballooned, athletic departments have, over this timeframe, swelled with additional sports information directors, equipment and facility managers, ticket managers and other staffers.

“Not only does a persistent gap exist between athlete aid and coach/administrative compensation, but it is widening,” the report states. It notes that the financial benefits have also increasingly flowed to the academic sides of universities.

The racial dynamics of amateurism were previously invoked in a report produced last summer by the National College Players Association and Drexel sports management professor Ellen Staurowsky, which determined that between 2017 and 2020, $10 billion of “generational wealth” transferred from college football and men’s basketball players to coaches, athletic officials and university administrators. That figure, however, didn’t isolate for race.

Tatos, for his part, previously made headlines with a 2019 article he co-authored that raised questions about the validity of some seminal athlete concussion research conducted by North Carolina’s esteemed sports-related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center.

In his latest offering, Tatos again invokes UNC’s concussion research, but this time as an example of the “interracial wealth transfer” going from black football players to white university employees. Searching the National Institutes of Health’s online database, Tatos and Singer identified 72 federal grants, worth approximately $38 million, for the purpose of studying college football. Almost none of the grantees were black.

The article also takes aim at one of the key justifications supporters of amateurism have used to push back against the idea of pay-for-play: that big-time college athletes ultimately receive financial benefits by being able to play for a school. The authors note that for the 2020-21 season, NBA players who didn’t attend American universities were averaging better salaries ($7.72 million) than those who had ($7.05 million).

“For former college athletes now in the NBA,” the article states, “the ‘college experience’ served to enrich the primarily White constituencies who benefited from the collegiate athlete labor.”