It’s Better to Be an EBUG than an NCAA Athlete?

42-year-old Zamboni driver, David Ayres, made his NHL debut participating as backup goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes at the Maple Leafs game. Both of the Hurricanes’ goaltenders were out with injuries and Ayres was the designated emergency backup goaltender. Thus, with no other options Ayres stepped onto the ice wearing a Hurricanes jersey number 90, and stopped eight of ten shots, earning the 6-3 win. As for Ayres compensation, he was paid $500 and allowed to keep his game-worn jersey.

Image Credit: Travis Long
David Ayres, poses in front of a green screen while filming a promotional videos on February 25, 2020

After the game, Ayres became a fast celebrity and was flown to Raleigh on Tuesday where he enjoyed a full on media frenzy, including appearances on several ESPN programs, the “Today” show, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” and SportsCenter. Hurricanes forward Justin Williams said, “It has been a pretty special moment that a lot of people have been able to share and a lot of people can, I guess in some way relate to,”.  He went on to say that “just an average guy living his dream, an ‘Average Joe’ coming out and playing an NHL hockey game, is pretty awesome to see.” Now, the Carolina Pro Shop is full of Ayres No. 90 t-shirts with the display touting, ‘“Zamboni driver by day, emergency goaltender by night’. David Ayres earned First Star honors and saved the day for the Canes in Toronto! Grab your t-shirt jersey to support the Canes’ newest legend.”  Ayres No. 90 t-shirts are being sold for $28.00 and the team shop has stated that Ayers will receive all of the royalties from the sales, while a portion of the proceeds will go to a kidney foundation. (Ayres underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.) The team shop cautions that “due to the high demand, please allow two to four weeks for delivery.

Image Credit: carolinaproshop.com
Ayres No. 90 t-shirt is being sold at the pro shop for $28.00

Ayres 15 minutes of fame has blasted him onto the main stage and allowed him to gain royalties for his one game appearance. As March is now a week away it is hard not to see the stark juxtaposition between this one game stardom and the Cinderella teams and their student-athletes competing in March Madness. These college athletes will be thrust into the spotlight as the NCAA Tournament brings in millions of viewers. According to Forbes, during the three weekends of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, March Madness, 100 million people will tune in to watch the 67-game, 68-team tournament.

These college athletes will become fast stars and their images will be plastered all over major sports networks such as SportsCenter and ESPN. But who will benefit from this multi-million dollar tournament? Not the athletes.  From 2011 to 2032 CBS and Turner will pay $19.6 billion to the NCAA for the TV/streaming rights of the tournament. For the tournament in 2018, CBS and Turner sold $1.32 billion in advertising. A 30 second ad in the championship game on Turner was worth $1.41 million in 2018, and $1.71 million on CBS.

This does not take into account the amount in bonuses that the coaches obtain from making it to and advancing in the NCAA tournament. Previous University at Buffalo Men’s Basketball Coach Bobby Hurley is now the head coach of the successful Arizona State program. New terms were approved last February by the Arizona Board of Regents that now allow Hurley to get one bonus for the NCAA tournament, and based on the final outcome, to be able to get a series of cumulative bonuses that rise in value with each round. Now, Hurley can make $25,000 for making it to the field of 68, and can get $50,000 for winning one game, $100,000 for making it to the Sweet Sixteen, $200,000 for making it to the Final Four, and $500,000 for winning the NCAA Tournament. That would total a $1.4 million bonus for Hurley. 

Image Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pietsch
Bobby Hurley cheers on his team during the game against Oregon on Thursday, February 28, 2019

How much would the players receive for advancing in the NCAA tournament or for even winning a National Championship? Absolutely nothing. Many may argue that the players at an Arizona St. for example, will be able to continue their careers in professional basketball leagues and will eventually make a profit from their skills. That may be true for some, but it isn’t true for the majority. 

Image Credit: Gamecock Athletics

As we near March, teams are finishing their seasons and preparing to advance in one of the most lucrative sports tournaments in the world, the NCAA Tournament. The University of South Carolina has become a juggernaut in women’s basketball, and currently stand as the No. 1 overall seed. The Gamecocks won their first National Championship in 2017 when they defeated Mississippi State 67-55. Carolina ended their historic run with a final record of 33-4. A’ja Wilson was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and finished the game with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks. The Gamecocks named Wilson the “game changer” for her ability to protect the rim, and finish difficult shots around the basket. During the 2016-17 season, Wilson earned a plethora of awards including: Naismith Award Finalist, Wooden Award Finalist, Wade Trophy Finalist, All-American First Team, SEC Player of the Year, All-SEC First Team, SEC All-Defensive Team, NCAA Final Four MOP, NCAA Stockton Region All-Tournament Team, SEC Tournament MVP, and SEC Winter Academic Honor Roll. This begs the question, did Wilson earn any bonuses for having such an incredible season? Of course she didn’t, because in 2016-17 it was forbidden by the NCAA for student-athletes to be receive endorsement income. 

However, the same season the Gamecocks Head Coach Dawn Staley was awarded $530,000 in bonuses for the historic year,  including $15,000 for 11 or more SEC wins, $100,000 for winning the SEC regular-season championship and the SEC tournament championship, $400,000 for winning the National Championship, $15,000 for South Carolina being in the Top 25 in the final poll, and other bonuses that are tied to the school’s academic performance and Academic Progress Rate. Although Wilson is continuing her professional basketball career, she will not financially benefit from her contributions to the Gamecocks. 

Image Credit: Gamecock Athletics
Head Coach Dawn Staley and her coaching staff embrace after winning the NCAA National Championship

NCAA coaches are able to make significant bonuses for their tournament wins and professional one time players like Ayres stand to make significant amounts in merchandise royalties, while student athletes continue to be considered “amateurs” with the inability to benefit from their accomplishments.  In October, 2019, the NCAA’s top governing board unanimously agreed to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner that is consistent with the collegiate model. Although this is a significant step, the NCAA still does not have a working model for how name, likeness and image will be treated. For example, there still isn’t a specific approach to how autographs will be handled or how jersey sales of the student athletes will be addressed. The NCAA references the need to engage in further discussion before deciding on how to handle future name, image and likeness opportunities for student-athletes.

The NCAA’s departure from its previous stand on amateurism comes after California enacted Senate Bill 206. California took a critical step in enacting the Fair Pay to Play Act, which made California the first state to restore to student athletes a right everyone else has: the right to earn money from their name, image and likeness. California Senator Steve Braford stated that, “…student athletes struggle to get by with basic necessities such as food and clothing, [while] the NCAA makes millions off their talent and labor. College coaches are now some of the highest paid employees in the country because of the talented young men and women who play for them.” He continued, stating that SB 206 addresses these issues and at its heart is meant to deal with fairness and equity. The bill also aims to benefit women athletes, who have fewer professional sports opportunities than men by giving them the chance to “market themselves” to the male-dominated sports industry and “raise the profile of women’s sports overall.” 

The NCAA opposes California Senate Bill 206 on the grounds that it threatens amateurism by turning college athletes into employees. While opposing the Fair Pay to Play Act, the NCAA still recognizes the shifting climate on student-athletes benefiting from their name, likeness and image, and has taken a significant step by modernizing their policy. 

It remains to be seen how the NCAA will address this working model going forward. While Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver, benefits from his 15 minutes of fame, it is not yet clear how the NCAA will address the name, likeness and image opportunities for its student athletes, some of whom may potentially be approaching their own 15 minutes of fame. 

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