College athletes should get paid.
But wait. That might not mean what you think it means.
It doesn’t mean that college athletes should be living like professional athletes – raking in signing bonuses, making and spending millions.
But it does mean that college athletes should be getting something in return for their efforts on the field.
“But they are getting something – an education.” Absolutely yes – one of the greatest advantages to being a student-athlete is that you get money to go to school. But look at the numbers. For simplicity’s sake, let’s limit the argument to NCAA D1 football programs.
Why College Athletes Should Get Paid
The University of Alabama football team has won three of the last four national championships. It also pays its head coach, Nick Saban, more than $5 million a year. But that’s pennies compared to how much money the school is making from its varsity sports. In 2012, the school’s athletic revenue topped out at $124.5 million. The football program alone was responsible for $82 million.
That’s a lot of money brought in by a roster of 85 players. And since the players are responsible for this revenue, they deserve some kind of compensation.
Trying to bridge the disconnect
It seems like there is a huge disconnect – athletic programs bring in tens of millions of dollars, while the players live as regular college students. Just like every other financially-strapped student, these athletes are getting towed from parking lots, waiting for their money supply (in this case scholarship checks) to pay rent and living off of fast-food dollar menus.
But that’s just the thing – student-athletes aren’t regular college students in any other respect.
They have mandatory study halls. They have two-a-day practices. They have curfews. They don’t get holiday breaks if they make it to the post-season. They have practices, games, restrictions, playbooks – all on top of going to class and being expected to make honor roll (schedules also make it near impossible for athletes to get part-time jobs). And of course, the practices don’t end when the season does. It’s a spring, summer, fall and winter commitment.
What makes this disconnect so apparent is that inflation has changed everything about NCAA football – ticket prices, the size of stadiums, the cost of parking, coaches’ salaries. Everything has gotten an upgrade – except player compensation.
Are College Athletes On The Short End?
CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel looks at Oklahoma’s football program and how it’s grown monetarily over the past 50+ years. He makes a pretty good argument in favor of players being paid, saying they should get paid just from a numbers standpoint. For example, Oklahoma’s coach makes 300 times more than what he would have made in 1950.
Not to mention, Doyel points out that some players leave college owing money.
No Name? Then No Need To Pay
Schools are smart about it. The NCAA is smart about it. Video games are smart about it. They don’t use names of players – just likenesses. Although maybe the video game part of that is changing, as explained in the video below:
Colleges sell jerseys, just without names on them. Video games use their stats, hometowns and numbers – just not their names.
As long as the swag is without a name, players don’t have to get paid. Works out nicely for everyone – except the athletes they’re building their success on.
And all that money the programs are bringing in? It’s only going to increase with the growing popularity of online networks. Not everyone might be able to go to a game, but you can bet that every sports fan is all over the Internet. If you’re not in attendance on game day, no big deal. More and more conferences are creating online alternatives. The ACC, SEC and Big 10 have already made steps (and headlines) by using the Internet and TV to form their own networks to make even more cash. Their profits will increase – but player compensation will stay the same.
Are you starting to catch my drift here?
Could Payment Decrease Media Scandals?
There is another big reason college athletes should get paid. When players do try to earn a little extra on the side, they – and their programs – get punished.
Last year, the Ohio State Buckeyes went undefeated. They put up a perfect 12-0 season under a brand new coach. But they were banned from any post-season games because previously, numerous players traded memorabilia in exchange for goods. Their program subsequently crumbled under an NCAA investigation.
The University of Georgia’s A.J. Green was suspended for four games in 2010 for selling his used game jersey for some pocket change. Recently Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel caused a media storm when he was suspended for a brief 30 minutes of football after he allegedly sold autographs.
Let’s take a look at an incredible example in D.J. Fluker. A Louisiana native, Fluker grew to be one of the best offensive tackles in the SEC. But before he won multiple National Championships at Alabama, Fluker was living out of a car for weeks with his mother and siblings after they lost their home in Hurricane Katrina. He was also a student at Tuscaloosa when a tornado ripped through, devastating the college town, killing 52 people and destroying Fluker’s apartment in the process.
Now, Fluker is in the middle of a scandal that accuses him and other SEC players of taking money from Luther Davis, a man allegedly funneling money from agents and financial planners to players, according to Yahoo Sports.
Increase Pay, Decrease Black Eyes
Is it possible that if players got additional compensation they wouldn’t seek out ways to make money that are harmful to their programs? What would the NCAA do with all that free time, if they’re not spending it trying to investigate and punish football programs? What if graduation rates and grades influenced how much compensation players ended up with?
Obviously there’s no way to tell outright if providing players with some kind of compensation would reduce the amount of players breaking the rules, or increase the amount of student-athletes graduating for that matter. But it is certainly worth trying.
Wouldn’t it be crazy living in a world where ESPN headlines aren’t dominated by pay-to-play scandals?
Maybe as crazy as living in a world where college athletes should get paid to do a job that pays their colleges, their coaches and their programs – everyone but themselves – but still don’t.
What do you think? What should the logistics be? Are players worth more to schools than their scholarships? Let us know in the comments below.