What actually is the NCAA?

These four letters invoke some of the most polarizing views in sports: N. C. A. A.

On one side, you have what many see as one of the purest forms of sports. The passion of the fanbases and pure determination of the athletes produces a level of pageantry not seen in any other facet of life. College football provides family traditions that are passed down for generations,
college basketball’s March Madness essentially shuts the country down for four days, and college hockey brings a level of intensity that is rarely seen in today’s society. Soccer, lacrosse, and wrestling provide platforms for thousands of athletes to display lifetimes of hard work and determination. Track and field athletes use the collegiate stage to leap-frog into the Olympics, and baseball players gather in Omaha every year for the College World Series before attempting to take their talents to Major League Baseball. Over 400,000 student athletes attempt to become hometown heroes year in and year out, and the NCAA gives them the platform to do so. College sports are an integral part in American life.

On the other side, you have what many consider the biggest cases of exploitation in modern society.

On Saturday, it was reported that the NCAA was appealing a court decision that said it could no longer set a limit on how much schools can compensate their players:

The NCAA on Friday filed a notice of appeal challenging a federal judge’s ruling earlier this month that determined, in part, the organization violated antitrust law by limiting how much student-athletes could be compensated.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled the NCAA and member conferences would no longer be permitted to “limit compensation or benefits related to education,” but allowed the court to retain jurisdiction over the enforcement and amendment of the injunction.


While Wilken’s ruling stands as a win for the plaintiffs, it fell far short of what they were hoping for. They had asked the judge to lift all NCAA caps on compensation and strike down all rules prohibiting schools from giving athletes in revenue-generating sports more financial incentives for competing. The goal was to create a free market, where conferences set rules for compensating athletes, but Wilken’s ruling still allows the NCAA to prohibit cash compensation untethered to education-related expenses.


So basically, many collegiate athletes still feel like they are getting screwed, despite the possibility of getting compensated for education-related expenses. This makes sense, considering no one really gives a s**t about being reimbursed for textbooks when the NCAA brings in $1.1 billion a year.

When I saw this story, it really got me thinking… what even is the NCAA? I realize that these four letters are used to describe any organized collegiate sporting event, but I wasn’t exactly sure what the organization actually did. What do they bring to the table? Is it a company or a non-profit organization? Why does Mark Emmert look like the most boring Muppets character ever?

So I started doing some digging, just like everyone’s favorite Blue Mountain State backup quarterback:

Okay, so the NCAA isn’t actually just a front, right? This can’t actually be true, can it?

According to the NCAA’s official website, the organization is described as the following:

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.


The website goes on to say that the organization organizes the championships for all the affiliated sports and manages programs that benefit its athletes. So, in a sense, the NCAA actually does do a lot for the sports to don’t bring in a ton of revenue. This includes organizing championship systems, setting academic standards, and setting up programs to make sure student athletes are kept healthy. That sounds pretty good, I guess. But… what about sports that DO bring in tons of money, like football and basketball? Where does all that money go? Clearly, it doesn’t go to the student athletes (at least not directly), but there’s no way the NCAA actually uses that much money just to organize championships and support academics, right?

Here’s where it gets a little complicated:

The NCAA and our member colleges and universities together award $3.3 billion in athletic scholarships every year to more than 150,000 student-athletes.


Division I members received $560.3 million in distributions for the NCAA’s biggest expense.

Sports Illustrated

Am I missing something? How is the NCAA claiming that they give $3.3 billion in scholarships when their own financial distribution plans say they only give $589 million to Division I schools? I realize this doesn’t account for Division II and III schools, but I have a hard time believing that there’s that much scholarship money going around for smaller schools. Also, where’s the other $500 million in revenue going? If the NCAA only has 500 employees working in the Indianapolis like their website claims, that would mean an average salary of $1 million per employee. Obviously you’re going to have the higher-ups making a ton more, but that average seems crazy high for a company with only 500 employees.

Now I should mention that I’m simplifying all of this A TON. I have no clue how the NCAA’s finances are actually set up. But after all of these numbers, I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. Mark Emmert and his cast of Muppets are taking home GIANT paychecks because of football and basketball revenues.
  2. I’ve been using way too many question marks up to this point, which means the NCAA is nowhere near as transparent as they really need to be.

So what do I think? Is the NCAA a front? I think the answer is a resounding yes, simply because nothing related to the organization makes any sense whatsoever. It just doesn’t add up. I’m not necessarily saying that Mark Emmert is Walter White and the NCAA is the A1A Car Wash in this scenario, but I’m also not NOT saying that.

Disclaimer: Please don’t listen to my asinine opinions, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But conspiracy theories are fun, right?

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