Luke Bonner wanted to be paid. He wants his peers to be paid. The only problem was that Bonner was an amateur. His peers are still amateurs.
Whatever that means.
So who the heck is Luke Bonner? Well, you’ve probably never heard of him. He’s a 7-foot-1 lurching figure from Concord, New Hampshire. He played basketball at West Virginia for a season before transferring for three more seasons at the University of Massachusetts until he graduated in 2009.
Despite Bonner’s empowering stature — a plus on the basketball court — the big man averaged just 3.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game for his career. As a senior, he played 22 minutes per game and averaged 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. Not a bad year, but the only real productive season during his tenure at either school.
Why is this important? Well, the stats aren’t, but Bonner is.
Bonner is a co-founder of the College Athletes Players Association and has been advocating for college athletes’ rights for years.
In a recent first-person article for Vice Sports, Bonner told his story about being a college basketball player and why the NCAA failing to pay him or his peers — that whole amateurism piece — ends up hurting players more than the NCAA thinks it helps.
I get it. You’re thinking, “These kids get a free education. They have every opportunity imaginable for an 18-year-old kid. Why should they be paid? That’s what separates them from professionals. It keeps the game pure.”
Bogus. That argument is tired. Is the game really pure because the players don’t get paid, or is it pure because we have no other choice but to believe that?
Listen, I’m not saying that the NCAA should be dishing out multi-million dollar contracts to student-athletes — the “student” part of student-athletes is ironic, sometimes — but the organization needs to realize it’s not some all-powerful entity looking out for its players.
If you visit the NCAA website any time during the NCAA Tournament, you can print out an official bracket. That same bracket boasts the logos of the four channels that broadcast every single NCAA Tournament game. Turner and CBS Sports are paying the NCAA $8.8 billion — with a “B” — to broadcast those games until 2032.
Just below those fancy logos is another created by the NCAA itself. “Don’t Bet On It,” it reads.
That $8.8 billion value wasn’t just a number struck on a dart board. People watch tournament games because people bet on tournament games. Even that $5 pool at the office results in eyeballs locked to television sets for three weeks straight. The NCAA knows its tournament is worth nearly $10 billion. No sweat off its back.
And who is at the forefront of that, worrying over every move they make? The same players who can’t get a ride to the airport without risking suspension.
The rules are stacked against the players. Coaches can leave whenever they want. They can buy out of contracts, ditch their recruits and take on more money at a wealthier program. Even coaches who are fired get comped for their effort.
One coach even got an extra $80,000 because his players got good grades. The players do their homework and ace their tests — something the NCAA and schools say is the top priority — and the coach gets a fat check. Makes sense.
Business Insider reported in 2015 that student-athletes may spend more than 40 hours per week practicing. I’ve known plenty of 9-to-5ers who complain about working 40 hours, and they’re getting paid.
Cutting checks to 18-, 19-year-old athletes may not be the solution, but something needs to be done to relieve the burden placed on college athletes who don’t have a say in the rules that directly affect them. The NCAA puts all its effort into making sure athletes don’t get paid and that the regulations never end.
As the NCAA itself boasts, “There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of us will go pro in something other than sports.”
It’s time we redefine what it means to be an amateur.
Mike Pruden is the sports editor at The Sheridan Press.