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The debate over whether to pay college athletes continues to be one of the biggest issues surrounding the NCAA.
Last year, it raged on when college-hoops analyst Seth Davis argued that players wouldn’t boycott the Final Four over a lack of pay.
Davis said that for players, the moment is too big, too exciting – something they’ve worked toward for years – to protest over money.
Speaking to Business Insider in 2016, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas dismissed this notion and said teams had discussed protesting the Final Four.
“The idea that somehow – that because a protest has not happened, even though it’s been talked about, therefore the NCAA policies limiting athletes to a scholarship only are moral and just, is about as absurd as it gets,” Bilas said.
Bilas said one team he had been told had discussed a protest would “shock” people, though he wouldn’t disclose which team.
“I think it’s almost offensive for those that are paid and making millions to tell those that are unpaid and the engine generating millions that they are blessed is equally laughable and kinda sad,” he said. “Because [a boycott of the Final Four] has been discussed among players. And that is not some crazy notion. That’s a fact. It’s a fact that’s been confirmed by multiple people. It’s a possibility.
“And I think many have discussed, ‘Well, what would happen? What would be the result of it?’ And the players, it’s clear, have economic power and political power, but they’re transient, and they’re only in college a certain amount of time, and it would be a sacrifice.”
Bilas said the lack of compensation for college athletes was a problem in general.
“There’s no argument that this is a multibillion-dollar business that is professional in every way except how the athletes are treated. The only student in college that is subject to a wage restriction is an athlete,” Bilas said. “That’s one thing that should be remedied immediately.”
Bilas said it would be difficult for players to stage a protest because playing in the Final Four is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For players who are NBA-bound, and thus bound for big paychecks, perhaps the sacrifice would be worthwhile. For others who won’t go on to professional basketball, it could be a difficult decision because it could be the last competitive basketball they will play at the highest collegiate level.
Perhaps one day, one team will decide it’s for the greater good of college athletes to stage a protest and throw the tournament off balance. Bilas believes it’s not out of the realm of possibility.