Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes is the face the fight against NCAA, amateurism needs

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
7 Comments

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes has never been afraid of taking a fight public.

He was one of three named athletes to join a lawsuit against the NCAA two years ago. He has been outspoken on issues regarding race and police brutality in America. And over the weekend, a picture of Hayes holding a sign at College Gameday in Madison that read “Broke College Athlete Anything Helps” went viral.

(According to Deadspin, the Venmo account listed on that sign belongs to someone from Hayes’ hometown. A similar Venmo account that also received payments is registered to Hayes. Hayes told ESPN that any money sent to the accounts will be donated to Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County.)

He’s exactly the spokesman that college kids need in this fight.

There’s no better example of a kid that is being taken advantage of by the NCAA’s rules on amateurism and the inability to pay a player what he or she is worth.

Because Hayes is getting screwed.

For the majority of Division I athletes, getting school paid for in exchange for playing a sport is actually a pretty good deal. The senior sixth-man playing for American or Quinnipiac getting a quality education paid for cannot complain about being ripped off.

Hayes can.

According to a 2015 study by a professor from South Florida that was published in the Journal of Sports Economics, five-star basketball prospects should be paid $613,000 in compensation. Four-star recruits are worth more than $160,000 while three-star prospects are valued at $91,000. Hayes was a four-star prospect, but he’s not an average four-star player.

Hayes played in the Final Four his first two seasons. He reached the national title game, playing alongside the National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky, as a sophomore. He was an all-Big Ten player as a junior and is the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior. Not only that, but Hayes has spent his college career as one of the most colorful characters in the sport. Whether it was making a video as Nigel Burgundy, his infatuation with a stenographer that went viral, his shots at conference rivals or his charity work with Dictionary.com, Hayes is always in the spotlight for one reason or another. There’s an argument to be made that he’s the most recognizable face in college hoops this side of Grayson Allen.

The difference is that Hayes is well-known as opposed to notorious.

He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s likeable, he’s a good-looking kid. He’s everything that an advertiser would look for in a spokesman – more on that in a second.

Let’s add it all up. Hayes is worth $160,000 to his university simply for being a four-star prospect, but that’s before you consider his fame in the world of college athletics and the fact that he plays for Wisconsin, a massive national brand, in a league that pays the Badgers an estimated $40 million to broadcast football and basketball games.

I was able to speak to Hayes in a Washington D.C. Marriott where rooms start around $250 a night for Big Ten media day because the league made promises to Maryland and Rutgers that their push east – as blatant as blatant cash grabs can be – would mean the league would host more events on this side of the country. The Big Ten, a league centered in the midwest, will host its tournament at the Verizon Center in D.C. this March.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that Hayes will be wearing an Under Armour logo on every piece of Wisconsin gear he owns because the school signed an apparel deal worth nearly $100 million with the company this year.

In other words, based on the massive amount of money Wisconsin is bringing in via their football and men’s basketball programs this year and in the future, it’s safe to say Hayes is probably more valuable to Wisconsin than an average four-star recruit is to an average university.

And that’s before you consider the money that he loses out on due to amateurism.

How many car washes in Madison would want to be sponsored by Hayes? How many clothing stores would give him unlimited outfit options in exchange for wearing their products? I don’t know if Hayes loves cheese curds, but the good people of Wisconsin love cheese curds and I’m sure there are a few restaurants in the area that would be willing to spend some money to get Hayes to say his favorite cheese curds are their cheese curds.

But he’s not allowed to tap into that earning potential.

Because NCAA owns those rights.

And here is the most important part: Hayes is never again going to be this marketable.

There’s a reason he’s not in the NBA right now. Hayes declared. He went through the draft process and was told, more or less, that he’s not an NBA player, at least not right now. Not when he’s shooting 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three as a 6-foot-7 small-ball four.

This is as marketable and as profitable as he’s ever going to be, and the NCAA eliminates any ability he has to take advantage of that. Because they’re here for the academics, remember?

“We’re not student-athletes. We’re here to play sports,” Hayes, who is finishing up a business degree, said. “Some of us are missing class to be here right now.”

He’s stuck with a “salary” that the NCAA mandates cannot be more than his $40,000-a-year scholarship – in the 1990s, coaches won a lawsuit against the NCAA, saying their salaries were illegally restricted – and as nice as it is to be able to leave school without having to worry about those monthly loan payments for the next 30-something years, Hayes is good enough that he should be leaving school with enough money to put a down payment on a house and start a business so that he can put that degree to good use whether he decides to play professional basketball or not.

And if you think Hayes is going to spend his final year in college sitting idly by as money is taken out of his pocket, you’ve lost your mind.

As Hayes puts it, “Momma ain’t raise no punk.”