Chasing the almighty dollar

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:

  1. 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?
  2. Why is it acceptable for the NFL and NBA to get away with treating college athletics as a cost-free talent feeder system?
  3. 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.)
  4. 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?

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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.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Chasing the almighty dollar

  1. Laura

    You bring up many great questions. I think there are too many to even begin to answer. If you think of the pros and cons though…. there is one thing I believe for certain:

    In order for any collegiate athletes to be paid and not ruin the entire entity of college athletics – each athlete at each institution of each gender would have to get the same amount. But there are many Division I schools who are not pulling profits on athletics. So wouldn’t they have a hard time putting ADDITIONAL monies towards athletes? They already have the cost of the education that they offer the athletes in exchange for their athletic contribution to recover. Ivy schools offer no athletic scholarships. Do non-scholarship schools have to give a stipend to each athlete? Isn’t a spot at Brown with your 3.2 GPA enough? Isn’t getting into UCLA with an 1100 SAT enough? I am not saying it is – but some athletes get great benefits and give their time and hard work.

    So a Cornell might suffer a bit if they pay all athletes – while a USC would have no problem with it. Does USC help Cornell? Shouldn’t the NFL and NBA help pay? What about the Tennis Association? Where do we draw the lines?

    Resentments against athletes who get into schools while not meeting academic requirements that other athletes meet are already present. Stipends would worsen that situation.

    We should just remember that it isn’t a “free” education and consider giving each athlete a couple hundred bucks or more per semester. Athletes could choose to waive that stipend if they don’t need it.

    Think of the start Pac 10 WR whose mom has to park 3 miles away before her son’s football game because she cannot afford $50 to park while her son’s jersey and talent helps sell 90,000 tickets and make millions on tv.

  2. Hobnail_Boot

    Hewitt nailed it.

    Next.

  3. NebraskaDawg

    Is getting tuition ($20,000 to $30,000 per year at some schools) not considered pay for your “work”.
    In addition, how many student athletes have passed up the scholarship offer because they could make more money somewhere else. Not to mention stipends and bowl gifts. How many of us would have liked to have been a scholarship athlete over regular “joe” student.

  4. Ally

    Good Lord, can you imagine the bidding war for top ranked recruits? We thought the Terelle Pryor drama was a little much – just add some cheddar to the equation.

    And then, of course, recruiting services would eventually factor into the picture. I can certainly envision a plethora of issues arrising w/ a recruit’s desperation for that next elusive star-rating…to get a bigger pay. Remember the punter at northern colorado that stabbed his teammate just to ensure the starting job?

    I read last year that the value of our player’s education (including the uber-awesome dorms, tutoring, equipment, training, facilities, books & supplies, etc., etc… ) was worth somewhere around $100,000/year. All of that and the chance to go Pro. Sorry, but I think that’s more than enough.

    Not to mention the fact that college football as we know & love it would be ruined. They’re students first & amateur athletes second…for a reason. And besides, can we really trust the folks that brought us to the BCS model to work this issue out fairly? I’m laughing just at the thought.

  5. Sam

    Football and basketball are sports that are revenue positive at most schools. Money from those sports is where scholarships for baseball, golf, softball, gymnastics, track, swimming, etc., come from. Because of that, I see no need to include the smaller sports since they have already benefited with the cash they suck out of the athletic department’s funds.

    I suggest we pay football and basketball players a menial amount (say $250-300 per month) for their “part-time” job. We pay students that are cafeteria workers, and librarian assistants for their time, why not pay the athletes (equally) for their time? Their practice time, and workout schedule prevents them from having an equal opportunity to have a PT job to earn spending money. That amount would provide them with gas money, date money, and a few meals out. Does that mean some athletes in other sports would not benefit by getting this stipend? Sure, but they do benefit by the excess cash providing money to fund their schollys. And, the Darwin theory of survival of the fittest applies here. Make your sport more attractive, and money may be available. And if you don’t like that, turn pro…assuming there is a market for your skills.

    If you keep a Knowshon Moreno an extra year at UGA because he can afford to live like other college students by having a little spending money, how much would UGA make? He may still not turn down the pros’ offer, but it would make it easier to live another year, or two, as an amateur. Of course it would be worth it. I think it is wrong to not pay football players when many of them cannot buy a tank of gas for their car, yet Susie nerd makes money cleaning tables and brings no additional revenue to the school. It is fair to add this payment to the value of a scholarship, and should be implemented soon. Any wonder there are problems with players taking money from boosters, or getting involved with petty crimes? I know the Title IX folks and Socialists will scream “not fair”, but what else is new from these type folks? Take care of those that bring in the money, and don’t worry about the whiners.

  6. Ally

    Sam, no offense, but Knowshon won’t stay another year because he gets $250 spending money.

  7. Hobnail_Boot

    Sam –

    Those students working in the dining halls and libraries aren’t getting the $100K/year benefits that PWD outlined on his blog (GeorgiaSportsBlog). You should head over there and check that out.

  8. Sam

    Ally, it was just a name. While Knowshon may be a “lock” to make big money, there are many players on the cusp, some of whom realize they may need the degree one day. Having spending money and really enjoying college life can make a difference. I probably shouldn’t have used a name, but there are many non-elite players that struggle without cash. Some big names surprise you and come back, but they are usually the ones with money from family (Peyton and Eli for instance.)

    Hob Nail, I think Paul is way off here. While the benefits he mentions has a price tag, none of that is liquid to the player. They still want to take a date for a movie, and a pizza. They want decent clothes, and gas in their car. The school books, dorm rooms, medical staff, etc., doesn’t cover all their needs. A scholarship is very valuable when looked at the way he detailed, but it doesn’t spend….and all students need spending money.

  9. Sam – while I appreciate that some of the players might struggle with some extra cash, the Pandora’s Box of problems that would come from paying them would far outweigh any problems currently.

    The only way that this possibly happens would be a fund administered through the NCAA but at what level does this end and for what sports?

    So tease this out: 85 Scholarship football players given $100 per month August to May = $85,000 per school. 119 FBS schools = $10,115,000 per year.

    Not too bad right? But what about all the other sports. What about non scholarship players? And really is $100 enough?

    So say, on the very low end, you pay 300 athletes per school $100. That’s 37.5 Million just for the payments. Add in say 10 Million for the oversight to administer this and you are looking at 50 million at least to run this on the very low end. Probably you are looking closer to 100 million for a $100 per month payment to D 1-A athletes per year.

    And still that doesnt satisfy any of the arguments about Capitalism as you will still have star athletes arguing that they should be paid more since the value they bring in is not compensated proportionally.

  10. Frank

    Sam,

    “Susie Nerd” may be working in the cafeteria to pay for her own books, rent, medical staff, etc.

    Point is, $100,000 is a $100,000 whether liquid or not. Better yet, compensation for a part time job is compensation, no matter how you slice it. Your argument is like saying, “Yea, you gave me this free Hummer, but it doesn’t get good gas mileage. I’m going to need a stipend for that too.” Does that sound the least bit greedy?

    Nothing is ever enough for anybody. These guys (most of who will NOT play pro ball), a lot of whom would never have even considered a college education, are getting a free ride (and then some) at a very good institution. Where would the players be without the University’s brand name? No Georgia person would been a fan of Knowshon Moreno had he not become a Bulldog and succeeded on a big time college football stage. Where do you think the stage came from?

    This is very treacherous territory. You think it’s bad now with the administration jerking us around (parking, contribution levels). Think how bad it would be if we were paying all the contribution money to go cheer for spoiled free agents instead of poor college kids. What if the Hartman Fund were the “Atlanta Falcons Free Agent Fund.” Would you still give? We (alumni) were all poor college kids at some point.

    We’ve got to keep this in context. There’s a reason we love college football so much more than pro ball, and your adovcating we cross the threshold and elminate the difference between the two. If we start to pay college players, we might as well start a 16 team playoff.

  11. Frank

    “you’re”

    pet peeve of mine.

    And I wasn’t picking on Knowshon. Just using an example.