Sen. Chris Murphy: ‘It’s time for the NCAA to figure out how to compensate student-athletes’

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., says he's releasing a multi-part series addressing the issue of unfair compensation for college athletes. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., says he's releasing a multi-part series addressing the issue of unfair compensation for college athletes. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy (D) is the latest and most prominent politician to push for increased compensation for college athletes.

Murphy released a 15-page report Thursday, hours before the Sweet 16 begins, outlining the revenue the NCAA and its member schools produce. As you know, college athletes don’t receive any of that revenue outside of scholarships and cost-of-attendance stipends. It’s against NCAA rules for athletes to profit off their likenesses.

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The timing of Murphy’s report is no coincidence. After all, it’s titled “Madness, Inc.” and leads with a summary of Duke star Zion Williamson’s knee injury after his Nike shoe exploded in a game vs. North Carolina in February.

“Williamson’s shoe is a symbol of what college sports has become, and what March Madness embodies,” the report states. “Big-time college sports is a business. Everything the student-athletes do affects the bottom lines for institutions and corporations alike. Everything they wear brings profit to companies that have paid to turn student-athletes into human billboards. For the brief time they are on college campuses, they are a valuable resource for the adults around them.”

You can read the report in full here.

NCAA against a proposed House bill

Murphy’s report comes a few weeks after Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) said he was going to propose a bill that would allow athletes to make money off their image rights through endorsements and other means.

The NCAA responded to Walker’s proposal with a statement that said, in part, “This bill is unnecessary and may benefit only a small number of student-athletes and cause unintended consequences and negatively impact opportunities for all other college athletes.”

Last week, the NCAA appealed a federal judge’s ruling that would have raised the cap on how much colleges can compensate their athletes as long as those benefits are tied to education. The ruling did not open the door for athletes to get paid.

[Why a 2020 presidential candidate is proposing that NCAA players get paid]

Murphy’s report said college sports revenues have grown to $14 billion from $4 billion in 2003. Much of that growth has come from television money, as conferences like the SEC and Big Ten have formed their own television networks and the College Football Playoff has a very lucrative television contract with ESPN.

“The Power Five conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) include 65 of the most successful schools in college sports, both athletically and financially. Those programs brought in more than $7.6 billion in revenue last year,” the report says. “Out of the 2,078 institutions that have athletic programs, those 65 schools generated 54 percent of all college sports revenue. Essentially, 3 percent of all college programs bring in more than half of all the money, and they do that primarily by plowing money into their massive football programs.”

Football is, of course, the most-watched college sport. And ratings for games involving Power Five teams are the highest. According to a chart in the report, the third-biggest revenue driving sport in college athletics is men’s ice hockey. The average hockey revenue of $2.8 million is dwarfed by the average revenue of football programs ($32 million) and men’s basketball programs ($8 million).

Per NCAA rules, players in revenue-driving sports cannot be compensated more than players in sports that generate minuscule revenue. But as we’ve seen with the FBI’s investigation into pay-for-play in college basketball, capitalism exists on the black market.

Murphy has an ally in the coaching ranks

One of the early supporters of Murphy’s efforts is none other than a football coach in his home state. Randy Edsall tweeted his support for Murphy not long after the report was released.

Edsall first voiced his support for paying players in 2018.

Murphy’s report is the first in a series

There are no solutions for how college players should be more fairly compensated in Murphy’s report. Instead, the first installment of what the Senator’s office says is a multi-part series lays out other facts that are widely known to fans of college sports like the high salaries of Power Five coaches and the lavish facilities that big-time programs are building.

Future installments, Thursday’s report says, will focus on amateurism, the education opportunities athletes receive, athlete wellness and healthcare issues, and subsequently “a look forward at how we can address the litany of issues within this industry.”

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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