Bohannon wants more voice for college players

Wisconsin senior from Linn-Mar says letter-of-intent removes rights

Former Linn-Mar and Wisconsin basketball player Zach Bohannon, posing with former president George W. Bush, thinks student-athletes need a voice in the NCAA. (Photos from Zach Bohannon)
Former Linn-Mar and Wisconsin basketball player Zach Bohannon, posing with former president George W. Bush, thinks student-athletes need a voice in the NCAA. (Photos from Zach Bohannon)

Many people hear scholarship college athletes say they should have more rights and reply “They already have it better than most. They have enough.”

You never hear a scholarship athlete say the scholarship doesn't have great value. You don't hear them say they want to be paid salaries atop what they get. But what some have begun to find unjust is when they sign their name to national letters-of-intent, they're also signing away things.

Zach Bohannon of Marion has seen how the sausage is made. He just finished a five-year career as a Division I college basketball player. The first two years were at Air Force, the last three at Wisconsin. The final game he suited up for as a Badger was a Final Four loss to Kentucky.

The Linn-Mar graduate was devoted to both athletics and academics. He already has an undergraduate degree in economics and a Master's in life science communications, and is on track to earn a second Masters' this spring, in business administration.

At first, he was denied entrance into Wisconsin's MBA program because he didn't have any work experience. He lobbied that being a major-college athlete was having a full-time job. To his school's credit, his argument prevailed. He has other arguments he'd like to see the NCAA think about.

“A rule that I definitely don't like just being a fiscal conservative and a free-market capitalist hoping to go into business or Wall Street someday is when you sign your letter-of-intent for the NCAA at age 18, you're signing over your name, your image and your likeness to the NCAA,” Bohannon said.

“You're not able to profit off of any of that until you graduate. Which is absurd.

“If I had wanted to have a basketball clinic in the summer, I couldn't promote it at all ... couldn't make any money off it. Or even autograph sessions.”

College athletes not being allowed to get paid to sign autographs has been the law of the NCAA land forever.

“I know Johnny Manziel got suspended for a half of a football game because he signed his name, supposedly, for money,” Bohannon said. “It's your image, it's your name, why can't you use your own signature to profit off yourself?

“The NCAA will have autograph sessions for us where we'll sign basketballs and they'll sell them at private auctions and make money for the school, but we don't get a dime for that.”

During the last several months, Bohannon has taken part in conference calls with the United Steelworkers, the head of the National College Players Association, and a number of student-athletes across the nation. Players from Northwestern's football team will vote on Friday to determine whether they want to unionize.

Bohannon has said he doesn't favor unionization, but wants to see changes made to give student-athletes more of a voice in the NCAA's processes. He said his teammates originally had deaf ears when he discussed such things with them, but started to come around. Especially when they learned how many complimentary tickets they got at the Final Four.

“We had a bunch of family — especially immediate family — who we were trying to find tickets for,” Bohannon said. “You only get six tickets per person for the Final Four. Otherwise you have to buy them, and tickets were going for $150 minimum, face-value, just for getting a seat where you're just going to be watching on TV, basically, on the Jumbotron.

“We were like 'What's going on? Why can't we get more?' The NCAA is putting it in a football stadium. There are 80,000 seats in this place, and yet you're only going to get six per person? ... So you're telling your own brothers and sisters, 'Hey, sorry I don't have a ticket for you.'”

For those who hang the “dumb jock” label on such players, check out a March 29 New York Times feature detailing the lengths to which Bohannon and his teammates had to go to stay on top of their classwork during their Final Four run. Bohannon had to stay up until 4:30 a.m. on the day the Badgers left for the NCAA West Regional in Anaheim so he could work on a case study he was going to help present.

Somewhere else, someone who was making money off the NCAA tourney was surely sleeping soundly.

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