Should College Athletes Be Paid?

March 14th, 2011

Interesting piece from ESPN:

University of Texas football brought in $93.5 million in 2009, with quarterback Colt McCoy leading the Longhorns to the national championship game. Punch the numbers. NFL players get 58 percent of league revenues. If McCoy and his 80 teammates on scholarship were to divvy up that share of the pie, the average cut would be $672,676.

Instead, each athlete, by NCAA rule, could receive no more than tuition, fees, room, board and books — valued at $18,172 for in-state students, $35,924 if for out-of-state.

Let’s drop any pretenses that student athletes are actually students. They are employees of the University. Why should they not be paid? I’m not sure how the President of the NCAA can say this with a straight face:

“They are not employees, they are students,” he said. “We want them to be students, and we expect them to be good students. That’s really the line in the sand that I’m drawing. This isn’t about the [financial] resources. This is about, ‘Do they work for us? Or are they our students?’ They’re our students.”

Really? What are their graduation rates? Are they taking fluff classes? Seriously?

Look at the recent scandals at Ohio State and elsewhere. These students should be compensated by the University, rather than seeking money from agents and others off the books. One expert agrees.

“I personally think that it’s the greatest injustice in American sports,” said Andrew Schwarz, a Bay Area antitrust economist who has studied college sports finances. “We have these people that everyone loves to watch on TV and in person. We adore them, we adulate them, but we do not let them benefit from all of the money that they generate in anywhere near the way they would if there was a market system in place.”

Now universities, who are more crunched than ever for funding, certainly don’t want to pay athletes. They would much rather profit¬†obscenely¬†from their labor.

An ESPN review of the financial statements submitted by individual schools to the NCAA, Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service found that half of all athletic departments in the Football Bowl Subdivision — 60 of the 120 — brought in more money than they spent during the 2008-09 year (and another 21 broke even). The organization arrives at its lower number of 14 schools in the black by not counting what it calls “allocated revenue,” which it considers direct and indirect support provided by the university, student fees and direct government support. That’s almost $10 million in excluded revenue at the median FBS school, according to the NCAA report.

The most prominent football programs generate surpluses in the tens of millions of dollars. Texas set the pace in 2009 with $87.6 million in revenue, then added another $6 million on top of that in 2010 by advancing to the BCS National Championship Game, in which the Longhorns lost to Alabama. With bonuses, Longhorns football coach Mack Brown made a record $6.4 million that season and his assistants another $3.6 million, according to the audited financial statement the school submitted to the NCAA. The team splurged on travel, dropping $2.4 million, and other costs. Still, the Longhorns couldn’t spend anywhere near the cash they generated. Total team expenses came to $23.8 million — for a tidy surplus of $70.1 million. After all other athletic department expenses were paid, $13.1 million remained

Some possible legal issues for paying some, and not other students:

The idea of being able to offer a blue-chip recruit a scholarship, plus some, terrifies Ross Bjork, athletic director at Western Kentucky University. “That could be a scary day because then you’d get into the have-and-have-not discussion, where our budget is $20 million and their budget is $100 million. They can pay their athletes more.”

Karl Benson, commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference, invoked the possibility of implications from Title IX. “The day that the NCAA permits pay-for-play, if it’s done for only a certain class of student-athlete — football and men’s basketball — there will be lawsuits that follow from other sports. The gender equity issues would be massive unless you paid every student-athlete, regardless of sport or gender, the same amount.”

Schwarz disagrees with any possible Title IX issues:

Schwarz dismissed those fears as unfounded, noting that Title IX, a federal law designed to promote equitable educational opportunities, does not require that schools spend equally on men and women. Texas spent $8.7 million on men’s basketball last year, $4.3 million on women’s basketball, a gender disparity reflected in overall spending for the athletic department, too. Yet, Texas stays out of Title IX hot water because half of its athletes, like half of its campus undergraduates, are women.

“Imagine a world in which paying the athletes wasn’t a problem, wasn’t an infraction, and what those [NCAA] enforcement people were doing was actually making sure the people in sports programs were students,” he said. “With one cross-out of one NCAA bylaw, you could free up a lot of resources and get rid of a lot of bureaucracy. You could let the market prevail and find ways to really achieve the ideal of the student-athlete.”