The AJ-C decides to explore the issue of paying college athletes in today’s edition. In addition to the main article, there are a couple of advocacy pieces, one pro and one con.
Just to give you some flavor for the story and the arguments, here are a few quotes:
Boston College’s Ron Brace:
“It’s like a job. We get up early, work out, meetings, class and practice,” Brace said. “We’re giving up a big chunk of our life. I see no reason we shouldn’t be paid.”
Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt:
“Few players truly move the needle in terms of attendance, TV ratings, or merchandising, but it would be like the free agency system in baseball; you’d get a few guys making a lot of money, and others fighting their way onto campus,” Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt said. “I think in the long run, the majority of student athletes would lose in that type of market.
“The idea is to provide educational opportunities for a lot of kids who could not afford one. I would hate to treat the few and leave out the many.”
Syracuse Professor Dr. Boyce Watkins:
Athletes should be paid like the rest of us: If what you do earns money, then you have the right to negotiate (without oppressive restrictions) for your share. When Tom Cruise makes a film, he gets paid quite well. He doesn’t get the money because he’s a nice guy, he gets paid because he is generating revenue for someone else. That’s how capitalism works.
NCAA President Dr. Myles Brand:
So, this argument, the capitalism one, suggests that only football and men’s basketball athletes should be paid (because only those sports make money) but only in those schools where there is money left over after all the bills are paid. If you have the good fortune to be recruited in football or men’s basketball to one of the handful of schools that make money, you get paid. But all the other student-athletes in those sports — not to mention the student-athletes in all the other sports — don’t get paid even though they work just as hard.
I have to admit that when I thought about this issue previously, I assumed that payment would be made in the context of equal amounts to student-athletes. Even with that, I questioned whether schools would be able to get around challenges like Title IX to be able to do it. But the “capitalism” argument opens up a whole new can of worms.
Quite frankly, I can’t think of a faster way to destroy college athletics than to adopt the position Dr. Watkins advocates. Let me just throw a few names out, and you think about how they would fare with a “whatever the market allows” approach: T. Boone Pickens. Kelley Washington. Thomas Davis. Odell Thurman. The University of Alabama. Wake Forest University. Billy Gillispie and assorted ninth-graders.
Look, I’m not naive about college athletics. But I’m not stupid, either. There’s no way the system would survive the financial disparity and the human jealousy that Watkins’ proposal would engender.
Listen to the conflicts in these players comments:
… Others, like Brace and Tennessee senior running back Arian Foster think pay-for-play is an idea whose time should come. But Foster saw problems arising.
“How would you divvy it up among the players?” he asked. “Would one player get more than another? If you ask me should we do it I believe we should. There is a lot of money being made off of us.”
Graduate student cornerback Jeremy Gray of N.C. State has issues with paying only student-athletes from revenue-generating sports.
“It would be hard to deal with, so the best decision is probably to keep it as it is,” he said. “How would you weight a tennis player against a basketball player? It wouldn’t be fair to everybody.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whose likeness in his Boston College jersey appears on “NCAA 09,” is torn.
“You do a lot for the school,” said Ryan, who signed a $72 million contract with the Falcons after he was selected third in the NFL draft. “At the same time, there’s an innocence to it that’s great about college football. I had a blast. While I do understand the concern for being paid. I also really enjoyed my experience up at BC without being paid. But I think something will happen in the future.”
All of which isn’t to say that I don’t have some sympathy for this part of Watkins’ argument:
… Coaches are allowed to jump from job to job, going to the highest bidder, while players who transfer lose a year of eligibility. Coaches and administrators earn millions from excessive commercialization of player images, while a player is not allowed to earn a penny from his/her own image.
I have witnessed students being taken out of class for an entire week to play in a nationally-televised football or basketball game, with academics (and the fact that the student’s grade has been jeopardized) becoming an afterthought. Players are treated like professional athletes, not students, and a weak performance on the field will cause them to lose their scholarship. Any institution operating as a government-sanctioned cartel, riddled with hypocrisy, disproportionate and exploitative compensation schemes, and glaring disregard for educational values should be scrutinized more carefully.
It’s just that on the one hand, he complains about excessive commercialization, but on the other, his solution is to allow even more.
And Brand has a pretty good point in response to the fairness argument, when he asks
… What is interesting to me is that you never hear the argument that student-athletes in other sports or those in Division III — where no scholarships are provided — should be paid. We’re paying the coaches, administrators and everyone else in those sports. Why isn’t that just as unfair? [Emphasis added.]
Again, I don’t have many answers to this debate. But I have a few questions that would be interesting to get responses to:
- Is there really enough money in college athletics, at least in the way that current revenues are generated, to pay for this? If not, what new sources of revenues should be permitted to pay student-athletes?
- Why is it acceptable for the NFL and NBA to get away with treating college athletics as a cost-free talent feeder system?
- In a truly capitalist setup, why would LaBron James want to go to college in the first place? (After all, he could choose to do that now, but doesn’t.)
- Isn’t some of the value that the system allocates to college athletics attributable to the institutions themselves? And if that’s the case, how do you factor that into the math?
UPDATE: Paul provides some added thoughts and some data on the subject here. That in turn reminded me of this seminal post on the subject at Sunday Morning Quarterback that’s definitely worth reviewing.