Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes became one of the most popular players during the recent college basketball season, showing off his intelligence and personality. Who could forget Hayes using long and obscure words to test stenographers at the NCAA Tournament as they transcribed interviews?
Behind the scenes last season, Hayes was preparing for his role in the latest landmark NCAA lawsuit -- a case brought by prominent attorney Jeffrey Kessler that seeks a free market for football and men’s basketball players to be paid. Hayes has not commented publicly about his involvement in the case, given advisement by his lawyers. Some of Hayes’ opinions became public Thursday when excerpts of his deposition were filed in court.
“I’m saying that it should be left to the schools to decide how much each player should get [in payments],” Hayes testified. “And I have no reason to believe that the schools would give the players less than we already receive. But I do have a feeling, and a belief, that we would receive more.”
Hayes testified on March 4 in Madison, Wisconsin, one day before the Badgers played at Minnesota. Sixteen days later, the Badgers started their run to the NCAA Tournament championship game with Hayes providing key contributions.
After Wisconsin clinched a berth in the Final Four, Hayes told CBSSports.com he had a “little inside chuckle” while walking right past NCAA president Mark Emmert to go onto the stage. The timing of the deposition near the NCAA Tournament marked a historical moment in college sports: A key player reaching the Final Four while he sued the NCAA.
Only excerpts of Hayes’ deposition were filed by the NCAA and the 11 major conferences, who are being sued over capping compensation at scholarship costs for football and men’s basketball players. The filings were part of the opposition by the NCAA and the conferences for the Kessler case, and a similar suit, to become class actions. The NCAA and the conferences say scholarships would likely be cut if players are paid.
Hayes testified that he is not seeking damages, just an injunction, and has no opinion on whether athletes in non-revenue sports should be paid. “I’m just here representing -- taking care of my basketball class, the Division (I) mens’ players,” he said.
When asked by an attorney for the defendants how he would feel if taking care of the basketball class meant fewer opportunities for non-revenue athletes, Hayes replied, “That would be something I’d care about, because I have friends who play other sports. But I have no reason to believe that would happen with the amount of money that my sport, as well as the FBS, generates.”
Hayes said he wants to let schools decide in a free market how much to pay each player. If schools had the opportunity to decide, “players would be better off” than they are today and schools would act “responsibly and fairly” when deciding who to pay, Hayes testified.
Hayes was asked whether his college choice would have been different if one school offered him more money than his other suitors. “I would not -- I can’t say what that would have done,” he said. “But I know that if that opportunity would have presented itself during my recruiting process, it would have been a factor in deciding.”
Hayes was pressed several times on how much money it would have taken for him to choose a different college, being given examples such as $10,000 or $100,000. Hayes wouldn’t bite by specifiying a number, saying only that money would have been one of the factors he would have considered during recruiting.
One line of questioning brought up Hayes’ talent compared to walk-on players at Wisconsin. These questions appeared to be aimed at trying to get testimony to show players on the same team have different skill levels and value. For the lawsuit to become a class action, the plaintiffs must show in part that their complaints are common to the entire class being represented.
The attorney asked Hayes whether Wisconsin walk-ons Matt Ferris, Aaron Moesch and T.J. Schlundt are as skilled as everyone else on the team.
“I think we all possess different skills,” Hayes replied. “Matt Ferris is a better shooter than me, but he can't dunk as well as I can. … In my opinion, they're great assets to the team, and everyone plays a great role in what we want to accomplish this year.”
Hayes, a sophomore, said that he has considered leaving early for the NBA. “I’m not saying I would definitely go if it was made that I could go in the first two rounds this year, but the idea would definitely be considered,” said Hayes, who has since decided to return for his junior season.
Hayes acknowledged he might stay in college longer if NCAA rules allowed Wisconsin to pay him. “I don’t know what I would decide, but it would be a factor, similar to the question you asked about being -- if a college offered me money to come to their school,” he said.
At one point, Hayes’ attorney interrupted and objected to the number of hypothetical questions being asked given that Hayes is a fact witness.
After his basketball career ends, Hayes said he would like to work his way up to become CEO of Nike or start his own clothing company. He acknowledged that having a college degree would help.
“I just read a list recently about millionaires and billionaires who dropped out of college and don't have college degrees,” he said. “So depends on my inspiration and my eureka moment.”
Hayes said he spoke with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan about the case, but not in detail given advisement by lawyers. Hayes said Ryan “told me that I had his support and the rest of the staff and teams’ support.”