No Pay, No Problem: Former College Hoopster Says NCAA Doesn't Exploit

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Doug Gottlieb has fond memories as a student-athlete, both on and off the court. (AlDoug Gottlieb has fond memories of his days playing college basketball, both on and off the court. (Al Bello/Allsport)
"You didn't have to worry about anything," Gottlieb says of his college days. "You just had to show up. And if you show up and you do your job, you have a great time." (Al Bello/Allsport)

This story is part of Only A Game's special episode about the past, present and future of the NCAA. Find the full episode here.

NCAA schools award $2.9 billion in athletic scholarships to 150,000 athletes every year. That’s huge. Especially for athletes in non-revenue sports — like volleyball, fencing and crew.

But it’s actually pretty hard to find someone who really understands how much money big time football and men's basketball bring in, and who feels like those players shouldn’t be paid.

But we found someone.

'If I Could Go Back And Do It Again'

Doug Gottlieb played basketball at Oklahoma State from 1997-2000, and I asked him to tell me a story about why he loved playing college basketball. He told me about this one game. It’s not on his YouTube highlight reel.

"My first year at Oklahoma State, we end up getting in the NCAA tournament, playing Duke in the second round," Gottlieb says. "And we lost."

The game had been tied with 2 1/2 minutes to go. Afterwards, Doug was down. He was sure that with a break here or there, his team would have won.

"So, we fly home, and the next day in school is St. Patrick's Day," Gottlieb says. "You know, like 10 o'clock, everybody kind of leaves class and goes and has green eggs and green beer. And I just remember being the toast of the town. It was just the moment, I was like, 'All right, this is what it was about.' I think if you ask 95 percent of the guys, they'll tell you, 'If I could go back and do it again today, I'd do it.' And you can count me among that crew."

Though Doug played pro basketball, he never made it to the NBA. His real career success has come as a commentator for ESPN, CBS Sports and now Fox Sports.

"The thing you learn most in college is how to make connections for the next phase of your life," he says. "And when I left Oklahoma State, I had established a bit of a brand for myself as a loquacious student-athlete. That helped me get opportunities, which has allowed me to be in this profession for 15 years."

Doug doesn’t believe he was exploited by Oklahoma State. He says, as an athlete, he was recruited by schools that never would have considered him if not for basketball. He graduated debt free.

"You remember when people used to wait in line to register for classes? We didn't," Gottlieb says. "When laptops fist came out, remember, 'Oh, so great you have a laptop?' I had a laptop every year I was in school. You know how hard it was to find a good tutor? It wasn't. You just asked your academic adviser, and you got the best tutor and you never paid a dime for it. You didn't have to worry about anything. You just had to show up. And if you show up and you do your job, you have a great time."

It’s interesting that Doug Gottlieb calls it a job — because there’s no salary. Compensation isn’t set by the free market, it’s limited by the NCAA.

Economists have pointed out — the NCAA has basically fixed the price for college athletes. And and an organization that fixes prices is called a cartel.

This segment aired on October 14, 2017.


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Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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