nigel hayes

ESPN’s College GameDay visited Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday before the Badgers’ game against Ohio State, and there’s not much question what will end up as the morning’s most memorable sign.

Wisconsin basketball star Nigel Hayes, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, walked around GameDay with a sign reading “Broke college athlete, anything helps” and a referral to his Venmo account “BrokeBadger1.”

Hayes has been a longtime critic of NCAA amateurism and a plaintiff in a lawsuit requesting schools be allowed to determine how much to pay their players. His sign is somewhat reminiscent of former UConn basketball star Shabazz Napier saying on the eve of the Final Four that he sometimes went to bed hungry.

Unsurprisingly, Hayes’ sign has been polarizing, with numerous observers—many of them high-paid sportswriters and analysts—saying Hayes can’t be broke or that he should be thankful he doesn’t have student-loan debt. Of course, these people are not likely to apply this same logic when it comes to their own salaries. It is quite easy to say that college athletes should have their market value capped when you yourself make six or seven figures a year, but let’s see what Seth Davis thinks when someone suggests he and an intern should earn the same salary while he gives thanks for the exposure.

Besides, the point isn’t whether Hayes is actually broke but whether he’s fairly compensated as a star athlete who brings millions to his school while being paid with a state-school scholarship, some spending money and a few hoodies. There’s not an economic argument out there that justifies the NCAA’s system of amateurism.

We don’t need to litigate the entire pay-for-play argument here in this blog post, but at the very least we should be able to agree that bright guys like Hayes speaking up is good for college sports. Smart people engaging about how best to produce fair outcomes is how problems get solved. And Hayes’ sign, snarky or not, has reignited a conversation that over the last few years has led to some welcome reforms.

College sports reform has certainly gone mainstream, and there’s a GameDay sign to prove it.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.