It's not easy getting to know Ramogi Huma. In an era where anyone with a duck call or a fondness for misbehaving on the Jersey Shore becomes intimately and instantly known to the general population, Huma steadfastly maintains his personal space as his own. Questions about the details of his biography are deflected. He belongs to an older era — of figures like Clarence Darrow, Eugene V. Debs, Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks — those who sublimate personality for a cause. While his cause has become monumental with the growth of revenue generated by Division I NCAA football and basketball, he's careful to distinguish both himself and the work he does from the athletes he advocates for, and he's sensible enough to understand that the excesses of greed and self interest he fights are part of a much bigger picture: the truly amazing and unique cash-generating machinery of college sports. This is a man whose last goal would be to throw the baby out with the bath water, to in any way harm or stall a multibillion-dollar industry. As a former NCAA athlete himself, he does not want to end collegiate athletics. He just wants the unrecognized labor force of that industry — the athletes — finally to have a seat at the bargaining table, after half a century of goods and services provided essentially at slave's wages.
For example, NCAA finances are as difficult to sort through as the numbers are high, and the figures can vary hugely with the bias of those reporting them. Most media outlets glibly equate "unionization" and "compensation" with professional salaries for NCAA athletes, but the association knows Huma isn't pursuing any such thing. The only big number that concerns him is the $600-plus million announced as this year's NCAA war chest for legal and legislative expenditures. "That's precisely where the student-athlete is truly amateur," he says. "You're talking 18-, 19-year-old kids, a 'turnstile' employee, changing at minimum every four years, going up against that $600-plus million." Without an advocate such as Huma and NCPA, the student-athlete has neither the legal resources nor the stamina to challenge the NCAA's power.
He's happy to gauge the current "value-per" of the top revenue-producing D-I athlete — the roughly 10,000 football players and 5,000 basketball players — at $80,000 over and above the average value of a $43,000 full scholarship. An interesting way of looking at the average D-I football/basketball player is as a $123,000 annual commodity, or roughly, the value of a good minor-league baseball player. Some would argue that's what the D-I system has become: a nationwide farm-team system. "That's $1.2 billion [net profit after expenses] divided by 15,000 D-I athletes," Huma prefers to leave it, simplifying the math. He's quick to add that while that $1.2 billion includes ridiculously high expenditures and biases on the part of athletic directors (ADs), Huma is not pursuing that $80,000 for each individual athlete, and never has.
[Photo Credit: Paul Beaty/Associated Press]