Replaceable ESPN Reporter Says NCAA Basketball Players Have "Almost No Market Value"


Picking on Darren Rovell is low-lying fruit, and there are elements of his reporting that are very valuable — e.g. his story and explanation about resellers reneging on Super Bowl tickets after getting caught in bad short sales — but there are times that he words his tweets inelegantly, and can come across as an uncritical mouthpiece for big industry.

This sparked a back-and-forth with Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy.

Taking this piece-by-piece:

1) Rovell, who does advocate for players to be able to capitalize on endorsements and jersey sales, isn’t entirely wrong about market value. Our site’s Jason Lisk made the point last April that some of the models of what players would be worth seemed overstated. Though some schools don’t make an honest effort to educate their student-athletes, the value of education received by players at institutions that do fulfill this mission can concurrently be understated.

2) That being said, the brand names on the front of the jerseys are incumbent on the players’ winning games (or, McCarthy’s “assumption of quality” argument). If the players were irrelevant, there wouldn’t be a thriving cottage industry of football and basketball recruiting web sites that track prospects before they reach middle school. We might not see schools like Georgia State or Buffalo doling out six-figure contracts beyond scholarships to its players, but there would be bidding wars up and down the roster at schools such as Kentucky and North Carolina.

3) 99.9% of the employees in any industry are replaceable. Would anyone who watches ESPN or goes to their web site stop doing so if Rovell left again? He’s not one of the several dozen most important people there, and they wouldn’t skip a beat without him. The reason that he reportedly earns over $500k a year is that there is a competitive marketplace of networks bidding on his services, a luxury that is unavailable in America to basketball and football players who can’t yet play professionally.

4) This goes beyond the scope of Rovell’s argument, but imagine for a second that these universities were not shackled by NCAA bylaws. What if players could sign contracts, wouldn’t need to sit out a year to transfer, and didn’t have eligibility limits? Athletes could earn their undergraduate degrees, and work towards Masters or even PHDs, while still playing. John Calipari could bid against the NBA rookie wage scale to keep his players in school, and, throughout the year, could take Kentucky’s basketball team around the world in new competitions. There are obvious institutional constraints against those ideas ever happening any time soon, but the only people who would be hurt by that system are NCAA bureaucrats who are unnecessary middlemen skimming millions of dollars off the top.

Eventually, though of course not imminently, a core of high profile athletic institutions are going to band together and realize that they could make more money by cutting the NCAA out of the process — to say nothing of escaping the clutches of inconsistently enforced disciplinary sanctions that can arbitrarily cripple programs for half a decade. With eye popping revenue figures, it will one day make more sense for the top tier of these schools to administer contests amongst themselves. If and when that becomes the case, there will still be a lot of hoops to jump through, but perhaps collective reform on player compensation will also take place.