Current NCAA hoops model comparable to indentured servitude

Gus Johnson: Playing college basketball for free? 'They laugh at us in Europe'

The Bunker Mentality
March 28, 2019 - 1:22 pm

As we sit patiently waiting to salivate over who Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson is going to dunk on next, the age old argument for student athletes being paid has come up again. This time it came from the mouth of long-time broadcaster Gus Johnson.

'I don't like these kids out here with this kind of talent playing for free," Johnson said. "They laugh at us in Europe. 'Why would you go to college and play when you can be a professional,' they say when they compare it to the soccer.

"Today's college basketball, having kids stay for three or four years is ridiculous; prohibiting them from getting a job. You don't do that to a golfer, who can turn pro at 18. You don't do that to a tennis player, who can turn pro at 18. All around the world, except America. You don't do that to a soccer player, who can turn pro at 18. So, why are we doing that to our basketball players? I kind of understand football, you've got to develop. American football, rather. You've got to develop your body. And go from high school, I don't think, to playing in the NFL, you need to develop for a few years, from 18 to 21 is a huge jump."

Johnson told Sam Crenshaw and Jarvis Davis he was scared when Williamson blew out his basketball shoe on the court. So scared, he questioned whether the freshman should return to action.

"I didn't even, actually, want him to come back," said Johnson. "I don't want people playing for free and I think the NCAA is wrong. It's almost like indentured servitude. This kid has made so much money for college basketball this year, just take him for example, Zion Williamson. So much money. How many jerseys has he sold all around? Not only in Raleigh-Durham but all around the country and all around the world. Look how much money the people in TV are making, you know ratings wise when he comes on. The NCAA tournament right now when he comes on. Everybody is getting a piece, even as an announcer. If I was doing his games, I'd be getting paid doing his games.

"The kid gets nothing. Nothing." 

How college athletes would be paid, if the NCAA ever did allow it, is not only a conundrum, it's much chided by purists who believe the education a player receives is enough. Johnson doesn't think college hoops can ever return to its glory days, not with the millions of dollars to be made.

"Like Dick Vitale said, he [Williamson] can't go out and make an appearance and have an endorsement, money that would be flowing for him easily," said Johnson. "And Coach Vitale said you take out the middle man. There is no middle man, there is no street guy that's trying to get paid... because it's legit.

"I mean some kind of tier system. They say they can't pay everybody, well there are exceptions for every rule. Maybe you put certain kind of athletes on a certain kind of tier when they go into college. If they're a Tier 1 athlete, they have an opportunity to make some money before they leave and not just leave empty handed. You're never going to see those days again. Those good old days of college basketball with all those players you knew them as household names because they stayed there three years, that's ridiculous if you can get paid NBA-type money."