Zion Williamson of the Duke Blue Devils was injured last night and there are a lot of opinions flying around. If you are unfamiliar with the story, I recommend tuning into ESPN in 3...2...1. They will be talking about it round the clock until the draft. The story is about as huge as Mr. Williamson himself. This freak of nature has garnered a bunch of attention, rightfully so. Now there will be questions surrounding his “NBA stock”, but I don’t anyone believes he will not go number 1. However, what if the injury is insurmountable? Zion would lose out on the potential 100s of millions he would have earned over the course of an NBA career. These types of injuries always lead to the “NCAA Players Should Be Paid” argument and the advocacy of an end to the “1 and done” rule that “forces” kids to play a year in college before going to the NBA, or at least sitting out a year. You can read a pretty standard opinion here, though filled with a lot of obscenities. Former college star turned NBA star DeMarcus Cousins threw two of his cents into the fray. I certainly see some of his arguments, but I found a few faults in this line of thinking. There is a lot going on, so this article is just going to focus on three aspects of the compensation for NCAA players debate.
The first argument is that Zion makes the NCAA a bunch of money. Ticket prices of the Duke vs. North Carolina game were mentioned in the argument, and there are a few problems with that. The university is not getting that giant amount for a ticket. That is what the ticket is being sold for on the secondary market. The corrupt NCAA (per the article) is not getting that money, either. That game is always sold out, and has been since before Zion Williamson ever picked up a basketball. It will be sold out next year, when Zion has hopefully moved on to a giant payday in the NBA. The flip side is that if Zion were allowed to play in the NBA, there would be no $4000 ticket for a regular season game. Branding is a huge part of the NCAA money making machine. While individual players do make a difference, think back to all the great players in the UNC vs. Duke game that are no longer there, and the game is still a big deal. It will be a big deal after Zion leaves.
People are paying for the college atmosphere, while also watching an NBA prospect. Zion drastically altered the secondary ticket market. The NCAA or North Carolina doesn’t take all that money, but they do take the TV money. There is no arguing that Zion brings in a lot of that. Cousins mentions the G league. Minor leagues, where there is nothing but major league prospects. We have a history of minor league teams in this country. When I was a child, my father took me to see future Hall of Famer Don Mattingly play for the Clippers. While I wasn’t great at math at the time, I am sure even then the 2 dollars he paid for the ticket was considerably less than 4 large. Paying college players giant sums of money turns the NCAA into the minor leagues, and minor leagues make minor money. It would seem like a good idea for a while, until the fans slowly go away from watching lesser pros and just watch the pros.
I agree the NCAA is making a bunch of money, as are the member institutions, and the coaches. That is indisputable. I believe the student athletes should get a bigger piece of the pie, however outright paying them would make them minor league athletes, which is never a giant money maker. Eventually, people would stop showing up for Duke vs. North Carolina en masse. So the question is, how could this quandary benefit the MAC. At the end of the day, this is a MAC blog, we love the MAC, and we want it to thrive.
First, we have to understand the point of the “one and done” rule, much like it’s cousin in the NFL where players have to be three years removed from high school to play in the league. Pro sports do not want to go toe to toe in a ratings war with college athletics. There was a time when they would be crushed, though now the pros would come out on top. However, tons of money would be lost on both sides. The pros have found a nifty way to use the NCAA as a minor leagues, without losing revenue on their own part. Not only that, they get a minor league that has giant attendance and interest, that also raises their own fan base. Many fans of the college game watch pro games to see their former favorite players, while many pro fans watch college games to see their future players.
Second, we have to understand that there is a giant gap between the top echelon of major college athletics and the smaller schools, even in the same division. Some people see the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world as basketball factories. If Williamson never played for Duke, Duke would still be Duke.
So this was my crazy idea of the week. I thought to myself, what if Zion Williamson played at Ball State?
Every game, Worthen Arena would be standing room only, along with every Cardinals road game. ESPN would have cameras everywhere. The motel in Muncie would be packed. The Williamson buzz would generate a lot of income for the town, the college, and the MAC. NBA scouts would pour in to see how the Nick Perkins and James Thompson the IVs handle themselves against a sure fire NBA player. That’s all worth something.
We live in a reality TV world.
I say we take the top 5 or 10 high school prospects each season and put them on a reality show. They must pick a mid-major or bottom tier major conference team and we slap a camera on them. They get paid for being TV stars, and the NCAA gives them a waiver for that. The NCAA is still an amateur league, while the top players are still guaranteed an income. The smaller schools get much needed publicity and even more needed revenue. The top players get their money, and let’s be honest, players like Zion are already on a 24 hour ESPN reality show.