ESPN boldly goes where… well, yeah, others have gone before, presenting the side of Andrew Schwarz, a Bay Area antitrust economist who strongly feels that it’s time to pay college players. And he’s got some jazzed up financial statistics to back his position up.
- The NCAA should count institutional payments to athletic departments as revenue, because some athletic departments give money back to their schools and because such payments to athletic departments should be seen as marketing fees, “given that sports teams provide enormous publicity for universities”.
- And I love this: “Tuition, the largest chunk of any athletic scholarship, carries no real hard cost, as it’s just a seat in a classroom (though it could count as an opportunity cost, if it’s true that seat would have been taken by a non-athlete paying full tuition).”
So when they do the revised math, Schwarz and ESPN come up with a whopping 81 schools which didn’t lose money on athletics in 2008-9, with that number growing to 99 for the next financial year.
But even with those numbers, of course, there’s still a huge difference between the schools at the top and the schools at the bottom. Which leads to this “it’s so easy” dismissal by Schwartz.
… 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 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.
As for Bjork’s expressed concern, Schwarz said the glamour schools get the best talent today, even without the ability to offer more than an athletic scholarship.
“Right now, we see big programs beating up on small programs for the first few weeks of college football season, so we already have that,” he said. “It is just that the people on the big team would have, I don’t know, $40,000 a year in their pocket and the people on the small teams might just be getting a scholarship. But it wouldn’t change the allocation of talent much at all when it is all done. There might be a little bit of shifting in conferences…
“A little bit”? Right. Besides that, if you think coaches like Nick Saban are ruthless about culling the herd now, wait ’til you see what they do when they’ve got kids who aren’t contributing but are getting paid forty grand a year to take up a roster spot. And there’s nothing said in the article about how schools would make up the shortfall which their non-revenue programs would face when the moneys which were previously spent on them are re-routed to pay players’ salaries in revenue sports.
But no matter. In the end, Schwartz does a little John Lennon-esque dreaming.
“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.”
I’m sure that would make Cecil Newton happy. And the NFL.