Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘Should College Athletes Get Paid?’
An NCAA study revealed that college athletes spend about 40 hours per week just playing their sport.
In return, college athletes receive payment in the form of a scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars, a portion of which the IRS taxes as income.
Athletes who fail to participate in mandatory practices or games have their scholarships terminated. So college athletes are already paid to play.
So why all the fuss over this topic?
Walter Byers, who served as NCAA President for over 35 years, confessed in his book that the NCAA sought to convince the public that such payments were not actually payments so that its member colleges could avoid paying workers compensation.
The NCAA literally invented the word “student-athlete,” referred to payments as scholarships, and hired publicists to promote its propaganda to ensure the ability of its membership to maximise profits.
“The NCAA and its colleges have no problem paying players. They’ve done so for almost 60 years.”
To have an honest discussion, we first need to realise that the NCAA and its colleges have no problem paying players. They’ve done so for almost 60 years. The real issue is that the NCAA and its colleges don’t want to increase payments to college athletes. The real question is whether or not some or all college athletes should be paid more.
College athletes will be the first to tell you how fortunate they are to have their opportunities. The vast majority of Division I athletes do not have the grounds to call for an increase in pay because their teams generate little revenue compared to the expenses necessary for their teams to exist.
Economically, they are similar to the average Division II, Division III, or high school team. However, this overall discussion has merit because big time college football and men’s basketball programs generate billions of dollars per year while the universities benefiting collectively agree to deny them their fair market value.
MORE: ‘Should College Athletes Get Paid?’ at The Great Debate →
My organisation, The National College Players Association (NCPA) conducted a joint study with Drexel University’s Department of Sport Management showing that, in a fair market, football players in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) that would be worth $121K per year while basketball players would be worth $265K per year.
However, NCAA rules leave 85 per cent of these players living below the federal poverty line. All of the men’s basketball players that played in this year’s Final Four live below the federal poverty line, but had an average fair market value of $846,172 per player in 2009-10.
Still, some will argue that schools can’t possibly afford to give traditional salaries to players because most programs lose money. This is generally true among non-FBS schools.
They fail to point out that the average net profits for FBS football and men’s basketball programs are $9.5 million and $2.5 million, respectively. In addition, FBS schools are receiving about $800 million in new revenue from recent TV deals. The truth is that most FBS athletic programs don’t have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.
FBS programs spend about $6.3 million per year more on non-revenue sports than other Division I schools. This means that FBS schools could spend $6.3 million per year less on these sports and still fully compete in Division I.
“Fiscal responsibility alone would enable the average FBS college to pay their players a salary in addition to their scholarship.”
This doesn’t count excessive spending in FBS football and men’s basketball programs, some of which includes multi-million dollar coaching salaries. Fiscal responsibility alone would enable the average FBS college to pay their football and men’s basketball players a salary in addition to their scholarship.
For those who worry that providing actual salaries for football and men’s basketball players would hurt other sports, they should take a close look at non-FBS colleges in Division I and Division II.
The majority of these football and basketball teams lose money, yet other sports flourish at these colleges. Athletes outside of football and men’s basketball still receive athletic scholarships, coaches are still hired, teams play full seasons, travel, and participate in post-season championships.
Others argue that Title IX would prevent schools from providing salaries to football and men’s basketball players. However, Title IX author and former Ivy League President Jeff Orleans has gone on record saying Title IX would not apply to football and men’s basketball programs that paid their players a salary because these programs would be considered unrelated business activities over which Title IX does not have jurisdiction.
But even if Title IX did apply, then the payment increase could be split between football and men’s basketball players and female athletes without sacrificing other scholarship players’ opportunities. Title IX is a consideration but by no means would it prevent paying football and men’s basketball players a salary.
Some proclaim that paying college football and basketball players would be a disadvantage for colleges with less money. The truth is that those college are already at chronic and severe disadvantages. Data compiled by sports economist Andy Schwarz shows that since 1985, over 90 per cent of Final Four basketball teams and top 25 football teams have come from the six “have” conferences.
The Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Silve called competitive equity an “illusion” and NCAA President Mark Emmert echoed similar sentiments. Therefore, it is irrational to use competitive equity as a reason not to pay football and basketball players.
Despite outlining the feasibility of paying football and men’s basketball players, the NCPA is not advocating for players to receive salaries. We are advocating for basic protections and an increase in graduation rates.
For instance, the NCAA does not mandate that colleges pay for any sports-related medical expenses—it’s optional. This arrangement too often leaves players stuck with sports-related medical bills. Permanently injured players can have their scholarships taken away.
College football and men’s basketball players’ graduation rates hover around 50 per cent and, despite the billions of dollars in revenue, the NCAA caps full scholarships below the price tag of the school. This leaves unsuspecting players with about $3000-$5000 per year in out-of-pocket educational-related expenses.
The NCPA is advocating for increased “payments” to players in the form of continuing education to increase graduation rates, coverage for sports-related medical expenses, the elimination of the scholarship shortfall, and the continuation of scholarships for athletes who are removed from their teams while in good academic and disciplinary standing.
Without an intervention, the $800 million in new annual TV revenue will continue to flow exclusively toward coaches salaries, new stadium luxury boxes, and mega athletic complexes that have nothing to do with the NCAA’s expressed mission of educating college athletes.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.