Iowa Men's Basketball

A popular lie: College athletes are adequately compensated

Former Hawkeye Jarryd Cole speaks out about "injustice" in who gets what

Iowa's Jarryd Cole in action against Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 2, 2011. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa's Jarryd Cole in action against Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 2, 2011. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Current college athletes typically don’t lobby for more compensation or rights for themselves. It’s a great way to catch flack and make people angry.

It became instant news recently when Jordan Bohannon, a University of Iowa junior basketball player, poked a beehive on Twitter when he showed a photo of a rug saying “March Madness” that was swiped from a locker room at the NCAA Tournament. His message:

“Give us the ability to make money off our own name and we’ll give you your rug back. You have 24 hours, @NCAA.”

Almost immediately, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and assorted other media outlets published stories about that. A player in this year’s NCAA tourney publicly said he wanted the right to profit off his own name and image.

After reactions started coming in, Bohannon followed up with this tweet: “After much deliberation, the @NCAA has agreed with the @uiowa the rug can stay in Iowa City as long as I issue a mea culpa. With that, I am sorry for my actions. No one is denying the incredible opportunities the NCAA provides for athletes like myself. I am forever grateful.”

There may have been a drop of sarcasm in there.

Inspired by Bohannon and answering to no one in the sports establishment, Jarryd Cole took it a lot further on Twitter. Cole played basketball for Iowa from 2007-2011. He wrote a virtual essay about the widely held belief student-athletes are adequately compensated with “free tuition and room and board, etc.” Among his statements in the tweets:

“As an employee, collegiate athletes don’t receive anywhere near the just compensation for their services while generating unreal amounts of money for everyone else. …

“I’m not saying there’s no value in an education/degree. There’s plenty. But the given compensation misses the deserved compensation by miles, especially considering the income generated by the athletes. Especially considering the risks involved for the athletes. Especially considering the coaches’ and ADs’ salaries.

“There’s no way you can slice this and say it’s fair. Nowhere else are people asked to sacrifice due payment for the hope of real payment later. It shouldn’t be asked of collegiate athletes.”

Cole was a popular player during a time in which the Hawkeyes weren’t good. He tore an ACL during his freshman season, but ended up playing in 108 games with the kind of attitude and effort everyone respected.

A Kansas City, Mo., native, Cole played pro basketball in Iceland and France before retiring from the sport and moving back to Iowa with his wife and daughters. He is a recruitment and admissions specialist at Des Moines University, a medical school. To the surprise of no one who knew him at Iowa, Cole is doing well. He stresses how much he values his education.

“I had a great experience at the University of Iowa,” Cole told me last week. “I don’t want to downplay that.

“But as you come out on the other side of that bubble, it’s a completely different thing. There’s no more veil over the experience. I’ve seen two different sides to it and weighed them.

“That’s why I’m vocal now, because I know current players can’t be for fear of backlash. They would appear to be ungrateful, spoiled athletes.”

When college athletes suggest they aren’t getting their fair share of the enormous sums of money floating around major-college football and basketball, many are quick to accuse them of not realizing how privileged they are.

“People say the players are having this grand experience and should just be grateful for what they’re getting,” Cole said. “They get to play basketball. Just be happy.

“No one wants to tear down that visual.”

The arguments how players would be paid and who should be paid could fill the Sunday sports section. Cole’s main point is there is an inequality.

“There’s a injustice,” he said, “and I’m not even talking about a dollar amount. It’s a matter of who’s getting it and what’s fair. It’s not going to the people who are rightfully earning it.”

Who buys a ticket to see coaches coach or administrators administrate? Why do people watch the NCAA Tournament on TV to make it worth $1.1 billion per year for CBS and Turner to own the rights to air the event? To watch the players perform, of course.

Something many say is they had to take out loans and put themselves in debt for an education while scholarship athletes have a great advantage without those financial burdens.

“I think people want everyone to have the same kind of walk through life,” Cole said. “If I didn’t get it, why should they?”

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But, he noted, college athletes prepared arduously for their opportunities. Academic scholarships, he said, are available “by putting in the effort and time an athlete does to their craft.” And, those who earn academic scholarships are then free to make income in any way they see fit.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy issued a paper entitled “Madness Inc.” that concludes the NCAA and college sports are exploiting college athletes and should “fairly compensate them for their labors.”

“I am a big college sports fan,” Murphy said, “but I think most fans recognize that the NCAA today isn’t acting in the best interest of many student-athletes. College sports has turned into a multibillion dollar industry where everyone’s getting rich except the students actually doing the work.

“Is there an easy solution? No. But the NCAA has created a complicated system of sponsorship and broadcast rights by which lots of adults get rich. They can figure out a way to get a percentage of that money to the students who are kept poor by a system that is designed to make lots of people rich except for the kids.”

Because Iowa reached the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this season and then won a game in the event, Hawkeyes Coach Fran McCaffery got $105,000 in bonuses and will get his salary bumped next season to $2.7 million. It would have been $2.35 million had Iowa not made the tournament.

If you go to Iowa’s athletics website you can see how many people are making a living on the backs of those athletes in revenue sports. It’s kind of incredible.

“I would say the system is unfair,” Cole said. “Just because the system is the way it is doesn’t mean it’s not false. The system is what it is, but it’s also wrong, and players do have the right to speak to that.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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