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Study finds average Maryland basketball player worth more than $450k per year

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If the NCAA used a revenue-sharing model similar to the NBA's, Melo Trimble would make $1.6 million this year, and the average Maryland player would clear $450,000, according to a NerdWallet.com study.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If the NCAA used a revenue-sharing system for men's basketball similar to that used in the NBA, the average Maryland player would be worth more than $450,000 per year, according to a new study from financial consultancy NerdWallet. Freshman point guard Melo Trimble would be worth at least $1.6 million, most on the team.

In the model used in the study, led by analyst Sreekar Jasthi, NCAA teams would share 50 percent of their annual revenue with their players – the same revenue-sharing rate the NBA and National Basketball Players Association have hashed out.

Drawing on data from the U.S. Department of Education, Jasthi reported Maryland's men's basketball revenue last season as $13.5 million. Of that, under the professional model, the Terps would share just shy of $6.8 million with their 15-player roster. (The NerdWallet model features 14 eligible players, but Maryland added a 15th in forward Ivan Bender at midseason.) On average, Maryland players would be worth $450,704.83, or about $483,000 if the roster size is 14. (For the purposes of data here, assume a 14-player roster size.)

But Jasthi's model doesn't simply allocate $450,000 to each Maryland player. In the NBA, the minimum salary is about 0.8 percent of the league's salary cap. In Jasthi's collegiate model, the minimum salary is similarly 0.8 percent of the team's total revenue obligation to player. For Maryland, the commensurate minimum salary is $54,371. The four Maryland players with no win shares would make this minimum, as would Bender or transfer Robert Carter Jr., if they were counted.

"A lot of times, players that have win shares that are close to zero or even negative," Jasthi said. "Obviously, we're not going to say they're making zero dollars or even negative dollars."

Based on his 5 win shares so far out of the team's 20.3, Trimble would be by far Maryland's richest player under the NBA's revenue-sharing system. He's already worth $1.6 million here, a figure that could rise if he continues to be Maryland's best player in March. Junior Jake Layman would be next, hauling in $1.2 million based on his 3.9 shares. Then comes senior Dez Wells, whose 2.5 shares would net him $806,000 in value.

Senior guard Richaud Pack would be worth about $645,000, per Jasthi's model. Sophomore Damonte Dodd and freshman Jared Nickens would make $548,000. Of Maryland's usual rotation players, the two lowest salaries for this year would go to freshmen Michal Cekovsky and Dion Wiley, but they'd both still make about $226,000 based on their 0.7 win shares.

The most liberal estimates of the annual value of a men's basketball scholarship place it around $120,000 per year – or barely half of what Maryland's least productive players would make under Jasthi's model. Most valuations of scholarships place the number far lower than that, however.

Many athletic departments do not turn a profit overall, but men's basketball and football are the key revenue-producers in almost every case. Men's basketball programs, Jasthi found, made more than $1.6 billion in revenue last year.

"I think the numbers by themselves do sort of reveal the extent to which, especially with the two major college sports, football and basketball, and especially at these schools which have programs always competing at a high level, like Maryland, those schools particularly are making a lot of revenue from their teams and their players, specifically," Jasthi said. "There's a lot more to it than the players, though." Indeed, universities bear other costs in producing men's basketball, including travel, coaching staffs and all sorts of operating expenses.

Maryland's average player value of at least $450,000 pales in comparison to figures at other top-25 programs. The average Louisville player is worth $1.3 million under the NBA model, with forward Montrezl Harrell pegged at $4.3 million. Duke's Jahlil Okafor would be worth $2.6 million, while Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell would lead the Big Ten at more than $2.4 million. Those players will get those sums and more once they reach the NBA, but Arizona guard T.J. McConnell – considered far less of a professional prospect – might never sniff the nearly $2.2 million Jasthi's model suggests he is worth.

All of these rates are based on team revenue and, within that, player win shares. This is a salary-capped series of estimates, not one of true market value, and NerdWallet hasn't taken a stance on paying college athletes. But under an NCAA version of the NBA's revenue-sharing model, Jasthi's analysis is a valuational starting point.

"Based on the win shares, based on how much they're contributing," Jasthi said, "we're saying that's how much they're worth."