Paying College Athletes Would Cost $200 Million Each Year

Cam Newton Auburn Tigers BCS

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With the The University of Miami athletic department scandal erupting this week, people are once again yelling at the top of their lungs “PAY THE PLAYERS!” And there may be a solution. But it is one that would cost at least $200 million every year.But before some of the millions generated by college football can be redirected to those that actually do the work, there are two big obstacles that must be overcome:


If the NCAA and the participating schools are going to pay the football and men’s basketball players, they are also going to have to pay the women’s volleyball and soccer players, and every other athlete at these institutions. It doesn’t matter that in most athletic programs, it is the football and men’s basketball teams that are the only sports making money and are actually supporting the other teams. TITLE IX says that schools receiving federal aid, must provide equal opportunities to men and women. And income is an opportunity that cannot be bestowed only on some of the men.

It doesn’t matter if you think Title IX is unfair or just outdated. Until Title IX is repealed or amended, it is the law of the land, and must be adhered to.


The University of Texas wouldn’t have any problem paying their athletes. Same for the University of Florida and maybe 20-30 other big-time athletic programs. But what about the University of Montana or the University of Portland? Can those schools afford to pay their football players? What about the rest of their athletes?

And if they can’t, the pay offered at the big schools is an unfair recruiting advantage and would just serve to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Some point to these hurdles as the reason the NCAA will never allow college athletes to be paid. But maybe there is a solution. A solution that would require the involvement of the Federal government.


In order to pay the athletes, the schools would need only to re-classify the athletes as employees and pay them through the Federal Work-Study Program (FWS). In essence, being a football player would be considered that students “job” during the school year, a consideration that doesn’t require much of a stretch.

FWS is a federally-funded aid program that gives students jobs during the school year in which they can earn up to a certain amount of money based on need. Students can work up to 20 hours per week and can earn up to $4,000 during the school year and $3,000 during the summer. Typically, the Federal government contributes 75 per cent of the students pay with the rest paid by the school.

During the 2010 fiscal year, nearly $1.2 billion was awarded to over 750 thousand students through FWS.

In 2009-10, there were approximately 167 thousand Division 1 athletes. If every athlete received the maximum award ($7,000), that would require addition FWS funding of $1.17 billion each year, with more than $876 million coming from the Federal government. That seems unlikely.

But if need determines that the average award for the athletes is the same as other students ($1,524, with some receiving more, some receiving less), the total cost of the program comes down to $255 million each year, with the schools only responsible for $63.6 million and the rest coming from the Federal government. 

And this assumes all athletes need some assistance. According to the Federal government, 79.5 per cent of full-time students receive some form of financial aid. If that same number is applied to college athletes, the total cost of the program is now $202 million each year, with $50.6 million coming from the schools.

$50.6 million? The BCS alone distributed more than $174 million for its five bowl games this season. You don’t think the NCAA and its member schools can find $50.6 million to pay all of the division 1 athletes that need assistance.

Of course, this won’t eliminate the extreme corruption. If Nevin Shapiro comes along and offers players $20,000 and a boatload of strippers, some players are still going to take it even if they are getting paid. Some will always want more no matter how much the NCAA gives them.

But $50.6 million in order to make sure that the athletes that need help get some additional needed assistance? The NCAA could write that check tomorrow. But will they?