WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Thursday hosted a panel with Ramogi Huma, President of the National College Players Association; Gerry Gurney, Professor and expert on academic integrity in college sports; Mary Willingham, whistleblower of University of North Carolina academic fraud scandal and author; and Ellen Staurowsky, professor studying exploitation in college sports and the legal frameworks for compensating athletes.
“I couldn't help but notice that inside the sport that I love so much was a festering civil rights crisis. When student-athletes are being used as commodities to make money for adults, and not being compensated or rewarded for the work that they do, that's a fairness issue,” said Murphy.
Murphy continued: “But what makes it an even more serious civil rights issue is that—at least in the big-time college sports programs, the football and basketball programs, the Power Five schools—the majority of those athletes are black athletes. And the majority of the adults who are making money off those athletes are white. And the people that are making money are making more money than ever before. Just in the last 15 years, the size of college athletics as an industry has tripled.”
Earlier on Thursday, Murphy released his second Madness, Inc. report—a series considering a range of problems within college sports. How Colleges Keep Athletes on the Field and Out of the Classroom examines the ways in which colleges fail in providing athletes the education they deserve. Murphy’s first report, released last March during the annual men’s basketball “March Madness” tournament, examined the profits of college sports and how the NCAA enriches nearly every entity but the athletes themselves. In that report, Murphy called on the NCAA to compensate athletes.
Full transcript of Murphy’s remarks:
“Welcome, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. We’re glad to have a full house here today. My name is Chris Murphy and I have the simple responsibility of kicking us off this morning.
“I’m glad to be—thrilled to be—joined here today by four leaders, when it comes to oversight of the college sports industry who are going to offer thoughts today about the state of college athletics and the perilous position that many student athletes find themselves in as more and more adults that surround them—both at the colleges and at the businesses that surround college sports who are making more money than ever before.
“Ramogi Huma from the Players Association is going to act as our moderator after I give opening remarks. But we are also joined here today by Ellen Staurowsky, who is from the Center for Sports Management at Drexel. Gerry Gurney, who is a researcher who has worked extensively on the issue of college graduation rates for athletes. And then Mary Willingham, who is one of the heroes of this movement—one of the individuals who brought to light a scandal in University of North Carolina that was essentially pushing students through fraudulent classwork in order to maintain academic eligibility.
“On the way over here, I was asked by one of our panelists, you know: ‘Why do you care about this? Why are you working on the issue of college athletics?’ And I get asked that by reporters as well given, you know, all of the various crises that exist around the world and in the United States, why should a United States Senator spend time on an issue about sports?
“And my answer? Pretty simple. First and foremost, I'm a huge sports fan. I grew up playing sports. I never made it to become a big-time college athlete. But I spend a lot of my time enjoying sports and enjoying college athletics as well. I’m a big college basketball fan. And increasingly, a big college football fan because the product they put on the field is hard to ignore.
“And yet, I'm also a civil rights advocate. I was the author of the Civil Rights title to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization. And I couldn't help but notice that inside the sport that I love so much was a festering civil rights crisis.
“When student-athletes are being used as commodities to make money for adults, and not being compensated or rewarded for the work that they do, that's a fairness issue.
“That's a civil rights issue. But what makes it an even more serious civil rights issue is that—at least in the big-time college sports programs, the football and basketball programs, the Power Five schools—the majority of those athletes are black athletes. And the majority of the adults who are making money off those athletes are white. And the people that are making money are making more money than ever before. Just in the last 15 years, the size of college athletics as an industry has tripled.
“Today, it's hard to gauge exactly how much money is being made in and around college athletics. But our estimate is around $14 billion. And when you look at the paltry piece of that, which is going to students in the form of scholarships, it begs the question: why are students working so hard, sacrificing so much? In the case of football, potentially sacrificing their health for the rest of their life and getting so little out of it?
“At the Power Five schools, the 4,400 Power Five coaches are making more in salary than the value of the scholarships to 45,000 athletes. And of course, we can drill down on individual coaches at the big, big schools and the big, big programs. And of course, they are making hundreds of times more than the athletes that they are coaching. And so, this is a civil rights issue.
“But today, we're releasing a report that goes deeper into one specific area of the crisis of college athletics. And that is the way in which athletes are kept on the field and out of the classroom. I hope many of you will read this report and I'm going to hand it over to the panel to talk about it. I'm sure they will spend some time talking about the broader problems as well.
“But the NCAA’s defense for why they don't compensate students while the adults are getting rich is that the scholarship is good enough compensation. And let me concede that there are thousands of student athletes at schools all across the country, who are getting a great deal. Who are enjoying their experience as a college athlete, who are getting a free education and come out of it better on both sides of the ledger, better for having the athletic experience. I'm a better person because of my experience growing up in athletics and better for the educational experience. And so we’ll be careful here not to draw too wide a line, not to paint with too broad a brush.
“But especially within these big time programs, these students are athlete-students, not student-athletes. When you are being asked to work 40 to 60 hours a week, as an athlete. When you are spending much of your time traveling all around the country promoting the brand of your school, it doesn't leave much time left for school work.
“40 different cheating scandals have been unveiled and that may be just the tip of the iceberg. Cases in which students aren't even actually doing the real work.
“And then there are the fuzzier lines and practices that exist, like the tendency for athletes to be grouped into a small number of majors that likely don't correspond to the actual academic interests of the students and likely corresponds to the ease by which their coaches and academic advisors think that they can remain eligible.
“And so through a variety of means, these scholarships are being devalued. And that's for the students who actually get to graduation. Today, we'll also talk about the high number of student-athletes that don't ever graduate. And the way that the NCAA rigs the numbers around graduation to make the situation look much better than it is.
“And specifically, the crisis for black athletes in this country who are graduating at rates that are 20 or 30 times, 20% to 30% lower, than their peers at the big-time college football and basketball programs.
“So to me, this is a civil rights issue. To me, this is an issue of fairness. And to me, this is an issue about—I’ll leave it here—a group that is voiceless today.
“I'm one of the youngest members of the Senate. And so, I think I generally have an obligation to speak up on behalf of young people.
“But because college athletes are by-and-large bound to remain silent on this issue, because if they raise their voice they will get in hot water with their coach and with their administrators and potentially lose their scholarship, there is very little reason to expect that student athletes will be the ones that will lead the charge. Because they are concerned with making sure that they remain eligible, and they keep their scholarship, and they stay on course to graduation. And raising your voice on this issue, risks all that.
“So it's up to us to raise a voice for them.
“And you are going to hear from a panel of experts who have spent part of their lives dedicated to that cause, speaking up on behalf of those athletes.
“And my hope is for those here representing offices in the Senate, or in the House, that you can convince your employer to take a leading role in this as well. That you can convince more Senators and Congressmen—I’m speaking to them all the time—about devoting a small portion of their advocacy on Capitol Hill for this very important group of Americans who are voiceless today, but are laboring under a civil rights crisis that needs to have people speaking up for it.
“So with that, let me turn this over to Ramogi who will lead us through a discussion here. I look forward to working with you and all of our panelists. So let me turn it over to Ramogi.”