The NCAA’s Exploitation of Student Athletes: Case in Point, Sun Devil Will Sutton
By Ben Wong,
August 2, 2014 10:28 AM

The NCAA cannot… take away the personal freedoms of its athletes while consuming the revenue they generate.


From the damp air of south Florida to the snowy mornings of Illinois to the dry heat of Tempe, and everywhere in between, individuals in their late teens and early twenties work tirelessly year round. They are given housing and food, as well as the opportunity to earn a degree in exchange for their relentless commitment to their athletic goals, goals many have had since adolescence. In the case of the biggest college sports, football and basketball, the exchange made between athlete and institution allows the institution to hold the monetary value of the athlete.      

The time commitment and energy devoted to his sport doesn’t allow the player to seek a job or take outside compensation for their work without university and coach approval. The institutions they work for, as a whole, make millions of dollars off the likeness and dedication of these young adults. For some of these young people, particularly those in the large revenue sports, this commitment is not so much an option, but a necessity.    

The current system must change. The NCAA cannot go on taking away the personal freedoms of its athletes while consuming the revenue they generate. The issue here is fairness, and college sports is currently an unfair system.    

Millions of fans, many with heavy wallets, enjoy college sports each year. And in the major sports, the players are the draw, more so than ever before. We have more channels and outlets to view and cover college sports than ever before, and therefore student-athletes are a bigger part of a university’s exposure than ever before.   

This was not the case in 1906, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association was founded. Athletic programs were run with school money, and were not the significant revenue generators that they are today in Division 1 Athletics. Back then, college was for the elite and their offspring.   

Mark Emmert, Chairman of the NCAA

Today, college football (in particular) is a completely different landscape than when it originated. It generates billions of dollars through TV contracts and apparel deals, and quarterbacks play in front of adoring audiences, clad in team gear, in massive stadiums. Helicopters are used in recruiting. The coaches of college football programs, once men who had to work other jobs or played on the teams themselves, are often the highest paid employees in their own states. Back at the turn of the century, players often didn’t have jersey numbers. Today they have twitter accounts, entire social media centers dedicated to their own thoughts and views, with hundreds of thousands of followers.    

Yet the system of compensation is largely the same. Despite the many hours of work they put in and the dollars that come from that work, college athletes do not receive a wage or have appropriate financial freedom. The NCAA is an unfair system of exploitation.   


Months after (Sutton’s) last game, a jersey with his number 90 is still featured throughout the stadium shop… for as much as $120.


Here at ASU, pictured likenesses of student-athletes can be found all over campus. Action shots of these young men and women are prominently plastered across billboards, printed on tickets, and shown in recruiting brochures. It is important to note that Arizona State University is not the culprit here. It operates under the legal monopoly of the NCAA.

ASU and the Pac-12 have advanced the conversation on this issue, and Northwestern University has actually taken action towards pursuing change through the establishment of a union. The culprit here is Mark Emmert and the NCAA.   

A specific example of the exploitation of college athletes under the current NCAA system can be found locally in star football player and eventual third round draft pick, Will Sutton. The senior defensive tackle and his signature dreads were on billboards promoting ticket sales outside Sun Devil Stadium and posters everywhere from the Mill avenue train station to the Jimmy Johns on Apache. Months after his last game, a jersey with his number 90 is still featured throughout the stadium shop in all sizes for as much as $120. During games Sutton jerseys and wigs filled the stands, a tangible measurement of the good-natured lineman’s popularity.

As a result of the terrific play of Sutton and others, ASU student attendance was at its highest in school history last season. Student season tickets ran up to $199 this past season. The Pac 12 Network’s “The Drive,” a weekly TV show that went behind the scenes of ASU Football and served as a terrific recruiting tool for ASU, featured the dominant Sun Devil lineman. Ultimately, ASU received the biggest national exposure and revenue jump from advancing to and hosting the Pac-12 championship game and participating in the Holiday Bowl, national exposure earned on the backs of Sutton and his teammates.


Sun Devil Will Sutton celebrates after a stop against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the 2013 Holiday Bowl (photo – Steve Kelly,


I believe that in his time at ASU, Will Sutton was taken advantage of. Though the full-ride scholarship Sutton received in his agreement to play ball in Tempe in 2009 is far from nothing ( estimates 4 years of out-of-state ASU, on-campus tuition to be $148,752), Sutton’s free ride didn’t reflect his true worth. The financial shockwaves from Sutton’s presence greatly outweigh the value of his covered tuition, housing, and meal plan.   

Selling his own used jerseys would have been met with suspension and scandal.

The money trail doesn’t stop with ASU. The Pac 12 Networks and their advertisers generate millions off of the efforts of superstars like Sutton and other high-profile student athletes. The TV stations that aired season ticket ads featuring now graduated Sun Devil stars Sutton, safety Alden Darby, and linebacker Carl Bradford among others, profited. The companies that put up the billboards and print the posters that featured Sutton and ASU basketball star Jahii Carson, among other athletes from several other sports, generated revenue from their contracts with the university. This years posters will make money off of Jaelen Strong and Shaquille McKissic. And on and on and on. Yet Sutton, and student-athletes all over the nation, cannot make a dime as college athletes or as “amateurs”.    

Despite Will Sutton’s impact on the popularity, recruiting, revenue and overall profile of the school, one of the most recognizable faces in the Tempe area could not profit from his own likeness. He couldn’t sign autographs for money (See Johnny Manziel). Selling his own used jerseys would have been met with suspension and scandal (See AJ Green). He couldn’t have any personal endorsements, as entire schools are sponsored by companies.

I’m not saying that Sutton didn’t receive great benefits from being a Sun Devil. What I am saying is that the benefits afforded to the university by having an on-field star and positive figure like Will Sutton greatly outweighed anything received by the 2012 & 2013 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.  

In the current NCAA system, many entities including the universities and their affiliated companies profit lucratively off of the accomplishments and popularity of student-athletes. The student-athletes do not .


In part 2, we will address the myth of amateurism in prominent college athletics.


What’s your take?

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