Jay Bilas Speaks to Calling Game: Why Are We Policing Student Athletes Like They’re Selling Drugs?


Calling Game sat down with Duke basketball legend and ESPN commentator Jay Bilas to talk equal pay for women, compensating college athletes, and his Twitter rap game. Bilas, in New York City to promote the new documentary The Class that Saved Coach K that airs on the new ACC Network Thursday at 9 p.m., stopped by at Mediaite to give us his take on some of the hottest issues in sports right now.

Bilas spoke first about the NCAA policing college athletes.

“My daughter was an art major at Duke,” Bilas said, “and she sold her work while she was in school, and was celebrated for it. But if an athlete sold something, you name it, then they’re looked upon as a criminal. And my thing is, well, why are we doing that? Why are we policing this like they’re selling drugs or something? It’s not that big of a deal.” 

“The free market will determine what everybody’s worth,” he added.

We also asked Bilas about the USWNT suing US Soccer. An official trial date has been set for May 2020, where the US District Court in California will hear the case from the 28 members of the USWNT.  

“I support it 100%, not because sort of, I think that well they agreed to this in collective bargaining and so they should be stuck with it or something like that or that they make the same amount of money, they make more money than the men, therefore this or that,” Bilas said.

He continued:

“It’s not arguments like that, I’m looking at this sort of holistically, saying what’s the right thing? Let’s not talk about who is generating more money, let’s talk about what kind of society do we want to live in and to me, when I look at this, and look at Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe and all these great athletes, would I sit there as the head of the governing body and try to tell someone, when I’m also talking to every young female athlete out there that’s coming up, what you do is not worth the same as what a man does.”

Bilas also shared his thoughts on the importance of doing the right thing when it comes to supporting and uplifting women’s sports, saying, “when is somebody going to say, alright, its true, the WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball team are not generating as much revenue as the NBA and the men’s national team–do we really want to go with that and say, you know what, your gold medal is not worth as much as LeBron’s gold medal.”

He said that it starts with what we as consumers and fans are willing to accept, adding, “I’m not willing to say that, and at some point we have to hit the reset button and say nope, what do we want going forward — when do we say that no, we’re just going to do the right thing?”

On NBA players doing more to help promote the WNBA, he mentioned that the men’s and women’s leagues need to band together. 

“But do you have the obligation to say, ‘Hey, let’s make sure that we are not only supporting this, but we are putting our money where our mouth is to help it thrive. That we’re not just tweeting, ‘Hey, love watching Sue Bird play’ or something, or ‘Congratulations US Women’s National Team’, that the men and the women should be in this together.” 

Bilas is well known for his opinions on compensating college athletes. As a Duke Alumni, he told Calling Game about the university’s failure to come up with a valid argument against paying college athletes:

“It’s funny that you mention Duke — well Duke knows exactly who to recruit and who to put in the game when they need to win. But they don’t know what anybody’s worth. Like, come on. Duke has 30,000 employees. They’re not saying, ‘well what do we do? Do we pay the landscape professional the same as the President of the University? What about the Head of Surgery? Do we pay the hot dog vendor the same as the Head of Surgery? ‘Cause they work just as hard. It’s just not fair, we can’t figure it out, it’s so difficult! And we don’t have enough money to pay them! Where’s the money going to come from?’”

Bilas has always been vocal about calling colleges out on their argument on not having enough money to pay athletes.

“You’re actually saying ‘Where’s the money going to come from?’ The University generates hundreds of millions of dollars off of athletics. And now that might mean that somebody’s gonna make less going forward. But you can’t tell me there’s not enough money when the revenue’s gonna keep rising and rising.”

Jay Bilas also gave us his thoughts on Billie Jean King, how far student athlete nutrition has come, and the value of certain academic programs for athletes. And finally, Jay left us with the below delight on his Twitter rap game:

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[Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images]

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Kelsey Trainor is a former two sport collegiate athlete, collegiate women's basketball coach and current attorney & producer. Amba Jagnarine is a former college athlete in charge of business development at Abrams Media (Mediaite's parent company). We are passionate about sports and giving women a bigger voice in all aspects of it. Twitter: @ktrain_11 | @AmbaJagnarine