Due to an ongoing investigation into the 2016 election cycle, an internal probe of all affairs, and the daily barage of tweets and public statements from the president, the FBI has been getting a lot of press recently. With so much on its plate, it may not make sense as to why the FBI is investigating the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but the investagation could finally reveal a decades-old problem with collegiate sports. In order to understand why the FBI is investigating sports, it is important to first understand the perspectives of both the NCAA and its athletes. 

The NCAA is a non-profit organization with the mission of regulating collegiate sports. It oversees the athletic programs of hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada and helps the almost half million college student athletes across the country. In doing so, the NCAA consistently generates almost a billion dollars in yearly revenue, but due to its non-profit nature, it can write most of it off as functional expenses. This money goes into a variety of tax exempt funds which are meant to improve the lives of student athletes. The money in these funds can pay for anything from scholarships to team travel and lodging expenses. Equally important is where the money comes from. Each March, the Division I men’s basketball tournament generates over 86 percent of the NCAA’s total revenue, but the athletes never see a penny. The NCAA makes the argument that the athletes are students first and are thus considered amature athletes and semi-professional, meaning they do not have to be paid. However, there is a severe departure from how these rules work in theory and how they work in practice. 

It is pretty easy for athletes to poke holes in all of the NCAA’s main arguments. The NCAA has maint ained that the athletes are students first and are no different from any other student in their respective universities. However, at many top tier athletic schools, this is simply not the case. The most famous instance of this was at the University of North Carolina, where a particularly popular class among top level athletes was Swahili. However, an investigation revealed that Swahili was one of many classes offered at UNC that were not what they seemed. Dubbed “paper classes,” Swahili and others, mainly in the African American Studies department were classes that athletes were instructed to take for easy A’s. This problem is definitely not unique to UNC. 

Athletes were instructed to take these classes not simply because they lacked the intelligence to pass. Their daily schedules are incredibly demanding. They have hours of practice in addition to class, and many top level athletes simply chose not to go. It is well understood among the athletes, coaches, university officials and fans that the players are there for athletics first and foremost. But the NCAA persists regardless. The NCAA also argues that these athletes shouldn’t be paid because they are amatuer. However what gives them this qualification? The NCAA has the second largest TV market for both football and basketball to its respective professional leagues. Dominant teams, draft day studs, engaging rivalries and classic games draw huge TV audiences and, as discussed before, booming ad revenue. People don’t watch for the NCAA as a league, they watch for the players and the game which is the product of the players’ effort. 

This system has existed for decades, so why did the FBI only get involved now? Well, it turns out that top players were being paid illegitimately and when NBA players were asked if this was a new phenomenon, many responded by saying that this system was an open secret among the players. Many top players were getting paid one way or another to sway certain prospects to certain colleges. It’s time for the NCAA to pay its athletes the money they deserve so they don’t resort to shady agents who often do not have the players’ best interests at heart. They work hard and deserve compensation.