WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday questioned leaders from top collegiate athletic programs as well as a leader of the college athlete rights movement at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing titled: Compensating College Athletes: Examining the Potential Impact on Athletes and Institutions. Murphy, who has been an outspoken advocate on the issue of reforming college sports, made the point that despite what colleges, athletic conferences, and the NCAA say, college athletes are often just students in name only, who are denied compensation despite generating billions of dollars in revenue for schools and athletic conferences.
Murphy, on how the college sports industry cares first about athletes generating revenues instead of their well-being: “So let's be clear: You don't have a choice as a high value high school athlete. You can't just go to the NFL. In fact, you can't go to the NBA. You have to make a stop along the way in the big business of college sports because there's a lot of folks who make millions of dollars depending on it […] So they don't have the choice to go pro, they’re athletes first and students second, let's just be honest about that as we approach this conversation.”
Murphy on the absurdity of colleges not being able to restrict coaches compensation due to antitrust laws, but being able to restrict college athletes from being compensated: “So in closing, you are not allowed by antitrust rules to be able to restrict the pay of college coaches, but you are allowed under current rules to be able to restrict the compensation of athletes. That just is patently absurd to me, and it's one of the reasons why this committee has to be engaged with the Commerce Committee.
In June, Murphy and Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green co-authored an op-ed for ESPN on how college sports must change following the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests for racial justice. Last December, Murphy released his third and final report in a series of reports that considered the range of problems within college athletics. The report, “Madness, Inc.: How College Sports Leave Athletes Broken and Abandoned,” examines the ways in which colleges and the NCAA neglect athletes’ health and received praise from players and advocates across the college athletics community. Murphy’s first Madness, Inc. report examined the billions in revenues produced by college sports and how that money enriches nearly everyone but the athletes themselves. Coaches, former athletes, and advocates have spoken out in support of Murphy’s first report. Murphy’s second report examined the ways in which colleges fail in providing athletes the education they deserve. This report similarly received praise from coaches, former athletes and advocates. Murphy is also part of the College Athlete Bill of Rights, a landmark proposal that would guarantee fair and equitable compensation, enforceable safety standards, and improved education outcomes for all college athletes.
A full transcript can be found below:
MURPHY: “Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Thank you to Senator Alexander, Senator Murray for bringing us here together today. I'm a huge college sports fan. And I can't help but have noticed that this has turned into a $15 billion industry over the course of the last 15 years. In fact, in that period of time, it's gone from a $5 billion industry to a $15 billion industry. And it's the only multibillion dollar industry in this country where we allow for the employers to collude in order to fix the wages of the majority of their employees. That's what's going on here. We can say that, you know, the workers, the athletes should be happy with the cost of tuition, but that's not how the free market works. And, to me, it's just pretty rich to listen to a coach who's making $5 million a year tell his athletes that they should be okay with simply the cost of tuition.
“For all of those in this body who believe in the free market, I don't know why we decide to keep it from athletes who are producing an incredible and increasingly valuable service. Now the argument is that they aren't athletes, they aren't workers, that they are actually just students who happen to play a sport. And the argument from Senator Alexander and others is that if they want to be pros, just go be pros. Right? You have a choice. And so I want to start with you Mr. Huma, just to try to understand whether those two arguments hold up and I want to make sure I have a minute remaining to ask one additional question of Chancellor Blank. So quick answers, if you could, Mr. Huma. Can a high school football player who wants to go to the NFL and make money who's ready to do so, can they do that?”
HUMA: “No, they have to pass through college. And so college has a monopoly on college football, a big business, and even from there, just to say simply go pro, less than 2% step foot in the NFL. You have 98% of people who never get that opportunity who rightfully deserve their fair share of that industry. And as we've shown in studies, this should be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, easily. And as we can prove, it would not require deleting non-revenue sports from the rosters and you know, some of the scare tactics. Ohio State has $209 million. It can't say that if they were to share some of that with some of the revenue athletes that they suddenly have to cut all sports when other colleges in the same division are fielding all kinds of non-revenue sports. So you'll get the scare tactic even from the top producers, it's just not true.”
MURPHY: “So let's be clear: You don't have a choice as a high value high school athlete. You can't just go to the NFL. In fact, you can't go to the NBA. You have to make a stop along the way in the big business of college sports because there's a lot of folks who make millions of dollars depending on it. Mr. Huma are these students like all other students? How many hours a week are power five football players spending on athletics? You know, if they’re students and then on the side athletes, I'd expect that they'd you know be putting in, you know, 5, 10 hours a week on athletics. How many hours a week are some of these power five students putting into athletics?”
HUMA: “When you ask about power five football, the NCAA’s own surveys show that the average FBS football player spends 44 hours per week in their sport alone. And even when you come to the other athletes, you're talking about well over 30 hours per week, so to pretend that academics is first--and these are these are athletes who have to schedule their entire majors and coursework around athletics, who oftentimes have to miss games in many of these sports and prioritize their athletics. So that's the true nature of college sports.”
MURPHY: “So they don't have the choice to go pro, they’re athletes first and students second, let's just be honest about that as we approach this conversation. Finally, in the minute that I have remaining, to Chancellor Blank. I've heard the argument from you and others that, you know, if you were forced to pay college athletes at least in sports like football and basketball that make money, then you couldn't afford to run all the other sports. And I think Mr. Huma did a pretty good job of explaining that, in fact, there are plenty of other institutions from high school to division three colleges, that manage to run sports programs without making any money, so I'm not necessarily sure why you couldn't adopt a model in which it’s just a little bit less professional looking. But let me make the argument to you that you don't have to actually reallocate money at all outside of your football program. Your head coach at the University of Wisconsin makes $4 million a year. What's the problem with just paying him you know, the salary of the average member of Congress, and taking those additional dollars and divvying them up amongst those who play for him? That wouldn't affect the rest of your college sports. Just reallocating money within the football program.”
BLANK: “So I actually had been quoted as being quite critical of the amounts of money that we currently pay coaches. I'm an economist, it's a market out there. As I noted earlier, it's very hard to find people who have really top coaching skills, whether in college or in professional sports, and the market competes those prices up. We used to restrict college coach salaries in the NCAA. There was a lawsuit on antitrust grounds that we lost. And at that point, since then, college coaches have simply been competed up by the market. I would be more than happy and I've said this before publicly, to consider an antitrust exemption that would allow us to restrict coaches’ salaries. I think that is appropriate for college sports. I think it is somewhat outrageous that the highest paid employee in many states is their state university college coach.”
MURPHY: “So in closing, you are not allowed by antitrust rules to be able to restrict the pay of college coaches, but you are allowed under current rules to be able to restrict the compensation of athletes. That just is patently absurd to me, and it's one of the reasons why this committee has to be engaged with the Commerce Committee in some pretty broad reform.”