Joe Nocera has a lengthy piece in the NYT Magazine on paying student athletes. Pretty scalding:
The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
This glaring, and increasingly untenable, discrepancy between what football and basketball players get and what everyone else in their food chain reaps has led to two things. First, it has bred a deep cynicism among the athletes themselves. Players aren’t stupid. They look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in the bookstores. They see 100,000 people in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. During the season, they can end up putting in 50-hour weeks at their sports, and they learn early on not to take any course that might require real effort or interfere with the primary reason they are on campus: to play football or basketball. The N.C.A.A. can piously define them as students first, but the players know better. They know they are making money for the athletic department. The N.C.A.A.’s often-stated contention that it is protecting the players from “excessive commercialism” is ludicrous; the only thing it’s protecting is everyone else’s revenue stream. (The N.C.A.A. itself takes in nearly $800 million a year, mostly from its March Madness TV contracts.) “Athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, a prominent sports agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”
It’s a system that enables misconduct to flourish. The abuse scandals that have swirled around Penn State football and Syracuse basketball. The revelation that a University of Miami booster — now in prison, convicted of running a Ponzi scheme — provided dozens of Miami football players with money, cars and even prostitutes. The Ohio State merchandise scandal that cost the coach, Jim Tressel, his job. The financial scandal at the Fiesta Bowl that led to the firing of its chief executive and the indictment of another top executive.
Here is an interesting quotation from the President of the NCAA:
“If we move toward a pay-for-play model — if we were to convert our student athletes to employees of the university — that would be the death of college athletics,” Emmert retorted. “Then they are subcontractors. Why would you even want them to be students? Why would you care about their graduation rates? Why would you care about their behavior?” No, he insisted, the extra $2,000 was an effort to increase the value of the scholarships, which some studies estimate falls on average about $3,500 short of the full cost of attending college annually.
Nocera actually has a plan of how to do this!
There are five elements to my plan. The first is a modified free-market approach to recruiting college players. Instead of sweet-talking recruits, college coaches will instead offer athletes real contracts, just as professional teams do. One school might think a star halfback is worth $40,000 a year; another might think he’s worth $60,000. When the player chooses a school, money will inevitably be part of the equation. For both coaches and players, sweet-talking will take a back seat to clear-eyed financial calculations.
The second element is a salary cap for every team, along with a minimum annual salary for every scholarship athlete. The salary caps I have in mind are pretty low, all things considered: $3 million for the salaries for the football team, and $650,000 for basketball, with a minimum salary of $25,000 per athlete. I would keep the number of basketball scholarships the same, at 13, while reducing the number of football scholarships from 85 to a more reasonable 60, close to the size of N.F.L. rosters. Thus, each football team would spend $1.5 million on the minimum salaries, and have the rest to attract star players. Basketball teams would use $325,000 on minimum salaries, and have another $325,000 to allocate as they wish among players. Every player who stays in school for four years would also get an additional two-year scholarship, which he could use either to complete his bachelor’s or get a master’s degree. That’s the third element.
The fourth: Each player would have lifetime health insurance. And the fifth: An organization would be created to represent both current and former college athletes. It may well turn out to be that this body takes on the form of a players’ union, since a salary cap is illegal under antitrust law unless it is part of a collective-bargaining agreement. (That’s why most professional sports leagues embrace players’ unions.) This organization — let’s call it the College Players Association — would manage the health insurance, negotiate with the N.C.A.A. to set the salary caps and salary minimums, distribute royalties and serve as an all-around counterweight to the N.C.A.A.
I think the sixth step would be to repeat TItle IX, as there are no provisions for increasing funding for female athletics. I got to think a bit more about this.
This part I think is important–schools that can’t afford to pay the minimum amount should rethink paticipating in Division I athletics. For most schools, it’s not worth the cost.
One obvious rejoinder is that paying players will create haves and have-nots in college sports. That is true — the Alabamas and Florida States would have a much easier time coming up with $3.65 million for their football and basketball players than Youngstown State. But the big-name college programs already have overwhelming advantages over the smaller Division I schools; paying the players doesn’t really change that fact. What it will most likely do is force smaller schools to rethink their commitment to big-time athletics. Schools that truly couldn’t afford to pay their players would be forced to de-emphasize football and men’s basketball — and, perhaps, regain their identity as institutions of higher learning. Ultimately, I suspect that if schools had to start paying their players, we would wind up with maybe 72 football schools (six conferences of 12 teams each) — down from the current 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs — and 100 or so major basketball schools instead of the 338 that now play in Division I. Seems about right, doesn’t it?
And this piece about how much coaches make.