The Pay-for-Play debate during March Madness with Tatishe Nteta

Tatishe Nteta, Associate Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst, speaks about how race affects the public opinion on paying college athletes on top of their scholarships. His research focuses on whether the debate surrounds prejudice or conservatism. (Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut received $79 million in sports revenue in 2016, ranking #46 in the country and our student athletes providing that value receive none of that income. This dynamic was the topic of Tuesday’s lecture, “The Other Side of the Coin: African Americans, Linked Fate and Public Opinion on Paying College Athletes” by University of Massachusetts professor Tatishe Nteta. The lecture focused on the racial factors that influence public opinion on the Pay-for-Play debate. While Nteta’s work is still ongoing, the political science professor has thus far found linked fate to be a major reason for support and racial resentment to be a strong reason for opposition to paying college athletes. The professor kept returning to the idea of “pictures in the head” of the public to explain the racial tint that Pay-for-Play has received and how these pictures are interpreted differently by blacks and whites.

“Pictures in the head” of the general public can be explained by the idea of associative coherence, or people’s tendency to create stories out of the facts they are given. For college athletes, lucrative TV deals, which regularly exceed $1 billion, are public knowledge and the players receive no piece of this increasingly large pie. Beyond the large revenue stream, the public makes pictures out of the most popular sports, namely basketball and football which are disproportionately populated by black athletes. The cover of Sports Illustrated also offers a clear shift of the perception of college athletes from white to black over the last 30 years. For Nteta, the interpretation of these “pictures,” or the narrative people create, largely diverge across racial boundaries.

According to Nteta’s research, the response to this information for white respondents is quite troubling. An Ordinary Least Squares regression of multiple factors that contribute to a person’s opinion of Pay-for-Play found that racial resentment was the most salient factor for white responders.

Conversely, the black view towards the information presented can be strongly explained by the idea of linked fate. “Linked fate” is strongly associated and ubiquitous with the black community and is the idea that one’s well-being is tied directly to the well-being of their racial group. In another OLS regression, the black responders were seen to weigh linked fate as the strongest factor in their opinion towards the Pay-for-Play debate.

Following the lecture, these findings were questioned by the audience. One question that addressed the Pay-for-Play idea will actually shake out in real terms and Nteta’s response was enlightening: “People think that the players will be taking in professional salaries but that is not the case. Profiting from their likeness is an alternative that is a form of common ground, but the problem comes with salaries.” This idea is especially insightful because it solves the problem of how to divide money. Only those who have valuable likenesses would receive money, so Title IX issues would not be as big of a problem. Acting major Rebekah Berger was able to find a similar middle ground in the arguments for and against paying college athletes: “I am not getting the kind of scholarships that athletes receive so that seems like a form of payment but they also have to do a ton of work for a skill that I do not have so I can see both sides of the debate.” Tuesday’s lecture was a compelling discussion that brought a fresh perspective to a topic that is especially important during March Madness, the TV rights to which were bought by CBS in 2016 for $8.8 billion.


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.