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This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘Should College Athletes Get Paid?’The question of whether to pay NCAA athletes or not is a slippery slope that university administrators and college coaches have been sliding down for years.
But the real challenge is acknowledging that the question itself is disguised or flawed.
NCAA athletes are already paid via scholarships… and by most standards, they are paid handsomely.
A better question for inquiring minds is whether we should pay them a lot more in the immediate future… or give them performance-based bonuses like their professional coaches.
We can make that divisive query because from the moment, private or state institutions began providing tuition scholarships for education, room and significant board, books, lab fees, all-weather clothing and shoes, educational tutors, elite coaching (that could facilitate a professional career), regional/national and international travel, introductions to wealthy alumni or business leaders, media training, medical treatment and access to professional recruiters (at least in football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse and baseball), collegiate athletes have been treated better and compensated more comprehensively than regular (non-athlete) students.
“Don’t muddy the waters by discussing how much revenue athletes help bring a university.”
Don’t fret the discussion of whether student-athlete is an oxymoron. Don’t worry about how many hours these athletes spend in practice or game situations.
Don’t muddy the waters by discussing how much revenue they help bring a university for TV rights, ticket sales, merchandise purchases and conference payouts.
Let’s cut to the chase and assign a value to an individual receiving all of the above benefits. We’re talking about students who regularly train in state-of-the-art multi-million dollar practice and training facilities, who live in athlete-specific facilities (with first-class amenities) and play for coaching staffs getting paid millions.
Education, living quarters and food at a Stanford or Northwestern for four years? At least $200,000 and that number is rising by the minute. Private tutors, skill-position coaches, PR specialists, conditioning experts (trainers) and doctors at UCLA or Michigan for four years? Slap on another $200,000. Minimum.
Cost to fly that athlete to far-flung locations or to keep the lights on 24 hours a day in the weight room, therapy pool or training facility at Ohio State, Texas or Florida for four years? Whack in another $100,000 (even if its amortized over multiple athletes).
What do we have? By my simple calculations, $500,000 over four years ($125,000 per year) for private schools and marginally less at state schools. That’s for every starting NCAA football or basketball player and a significant fraction for those volleyball, softball and soccer players. You may laugh at my fast maths but anyone inside the NCAA or one of its member institutions (that play major conference sport) knows that number is conservative.
MORE: ‘Should College Athletes Get Paid?’ at The Great Debate →
The issue, however, is not the amount provided (even if it’s not in cash) but that many journalists covering the sports world feel the number ($125,000) is artificially low and that institutions are taking advantage of student athletes.
We can argue that position because we know the value of professional football and basketball players and know what they are paid. The recently agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement league minimums for the NFL and NBA at approximately $500,000 are four times higher than $125,000. And with all due respect to the NBA’s Development League and Arena Football, the NCAA is the minor league farm system for pro football and basketball.
“Granted, most college athletes don’t make it to the pros. But most professional workers don’t become CEOs.”
Artificially low? Well, in a word, yes. Remember, we are not talking about unskilled workers. We are talking about young men (and to a far lesser degree, young women) who have been playing elite sport for the better part of 10 years. They have interned in youth leagues, learned the ropes in Amateur Athletic Union competitions and high school, gone to finishing school by playing in the NCAA and the pros, if they make it, is just another rung on the ladder.
Now granted, most college athletes don’t make it to the pros. But most professional workers don’t become CEOs. A handful do. So back to the original question: Should we pay all college athletes (not just football and basketball players) more than we already pay them now?
Well, capitalism requires that if markets are free and open, we pay what the market will bear. The NCAA
may be a closed system (a monopoly of sorts that doesn’t really have to deal with anti-trust issues) but the arms races that most Division I schools are engaged in keep upping the ante of what to give athletes. Better treatment? Yes? Better housing? Check? Better training facilities? Of course.
And next it will be money. The NCAA wants to start with $2,000 per athlete (a measure momentarily
voted down by canny athletic directors) but know this: once the NCAA gets on the hard-cash-to-athletes
slope, the amount will seem small and at some point soon, you’ll see the real cash flow.
To pay or not to pay?
Hah! Re-frame the question like this: When will NCAA schools be required to pay annual salaries and
The current logic suggests NCAA schools are still hoping to pay as little as possible as long as they can
but they also understand that as payout from networks and sponsors go up and coaches start making
$10-million per year, that the “employees” are going to need more than just an education, books and
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