Are college athletes being short-changed?

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Millions of rabid college basketball fans have been glued to their TVs over the past month as March Madness reached its crescendo. And the big bucks have been rolling in.

With coaches getting bigger salaries, and colleges splitting huge TV and admission revenue – there are lots of winners.

But one group is being exploited and shortchanged – the players themselves.

There’s certainly no shortage of income. This year in the NCAA tourney, television income is estimated to approach $2 billion with an additional $200 million from ticket sales and sponsorships. A 30-second spot for Monday night’s championship game cost nearly $2 million.

And college football is awash with a fabulously increasing income, as well.

The average compensation for these NCAA tourney coaches is at least twice that of the typical university president. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will pocket some $7.5 million this year.

In 40 states, the highest paid public employee is the football or basketball coach, which shows a perverted sense of priorities at these institutions of higher learning.

Fans pay through the nose to attend major college athletic events. As an LSU football season ticket holder, I personally pay $1,025 just for the right to buy one seat. The seat ticket itself is $64 per game. So there are big bucks coming into major college programs all over the country.

All this income comes from the hard-working, disciplined players on the fields and courts. Yet these college athletes are paid only the basics – room and board, tuition, books. No extras.

So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented athletes, with no sharing of the revenue with those responsible for generating it. Such a system is ill defined at best, and hypocritical at worst.

The universities are reaping the value produced by their recruits, while the players are given only enough for subsistence.

When I attended the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship, a little more than 50 years ago, I was given a housing and food allowance, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas and a few frills above the basic scholarship.

What I received then was equivalent to $300 in pocket money if the same were allowed today.

But it’s not.

The NCAA tightened the rules, and college athletes get less than athletes like myself received a half-century ago.

Supporters of the present system will argue that there’s the opportunity for these athletes to move on to the pros and make big financial returns. But we all know that very few make it to that level.

Further, many of them may not even end up with the basic skills necessary to succeed in other occupations, since only a minority of student-athletes in major sports even graduate.

The system in place now exploits our college athletes, and their adult mentors administer this exploitation.

What a deal: Your hard work and self-discipline for the entertainment of others in exchange for a pittance that barley covers your basic expenses.

A little monthly expense money is not going to corrupt the system. Three hundred dollars a month for athletes on a full athletic scholarship seems reasonable.

March Madness, as always, is a financial bonanza. But not for the kids that make it happen. They deserve a better shake and a little larger piece of this huge financial pie.