The Shady Business of College Sports

Allan Geui is not like most college athletes. Geui attends Cal State Northridge, a smaller Division I university. He won $40,000 at a shooting competition as a senior in high school. Under NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) rules, he could have kept the money, but rather he distributed it evenly amongst the runner-ups (Forde). After all, he did have a full ride scholarship to play. He stated, “I feel like I was well taken care of to go to school and play the game I love for free. The position I was in was different from a lot of good kids who needed it more than I did” (Forde). This is a college athlete who realizes he is being well taken care of and knows he is not some “indentured servant” working for the NCAA as some might imply.

However, maybe Allan doesn’t know what was in store for the future; maybe he’s going to run into a dead end and wish he never gave that money away. The issue behind college athlete compensation is one for the record books. Big time college athletes, who for the most part are naïve, young, and financially illiterate, have trouble coping with the big stage. Almost every year there’s another allegation involving an elite college athlete disobeying the rules. Do they deserve an annual salary and a cushion of money to keep them out of trouble with the NCAA? Maybe they do, but many think not. Athletes who are a part of the NCAA should be paid for their service due to the revenue they can generate for schools and companies.

On average, the typical scholarship falls about $3,000 short of the full cost of attending a university (Nocera). Sure, a scholarship covers the room and board, books, meal plans, and tuition, but it does not cover the basic essentials. Cost for toiletries, clothing, medicine and even recreational purposes isn’t covered in the scholarships. This might not seem like a big deal and they could just have their family send them money right? This is wrong because in big time college sports, the vast majority of athletes were raised in a poverty stricken family that have little source of money, so that $3,000 does a lot for these student-athletes.

Jalen Rose, a member of the “Fab 5” for the Michigan Wolverines in the early 1990s, was a Detroit projects native who experienced that being a big-time college athlete was not as glamorous as it seemed. He revealed that he drove around in an old, beat- up car. His teammates and he would eat ramen noodles on a nightly basis; they would have to keep their grades up since they were a part of a highly regarded team, and on top of that, they would have to attend practice on a daily basis (Weintraub). He especially felt routed when he saw all of his teams merchandise being sold across the nation, feeling that he deserved something extra in return (Weintraub).

Top-tier college sports generate millions upon millions of dollars in revenue for their schools and other companies annually. The Pac-12 alone, which is not nearly as big as other conferences, will be paid $225 million in the next twelve years from ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) and Fox alone (Oleson). Divide that by twelve teams and that’s $18.75 million for each school annually. Furthermore, ESPN pays the BCS (college football) $500 million dollars a year (Wilbon). CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) has a $10.8 billion contract from 2011-2024 with the NCAA for March Madness alone. That’s for three weekends a year of televised basketball (Wilbon). Three weekends a year for twelve years, doesn’t seem reasonable. No, but that’s what big time college sports are all about now- a-days.

It’s all about the money. And sure, a lot of that money goes to the schools to help make their franchise even stronger, but don’t you think the ones creating all this profit deserve a small slice? This is not to mention the private companies that are making money off selling athletes’ jerseys or even EA sports profiting millions off each players’ likenesses in video games (Wilder). Clearly, if these companies are making money off the athletes and thriving, these athletes could do the same.

Coaches are in the middle of this controversy as well. A study done by a Duke University economist showed that the average college football coach makes about $4 million a year, while bonuses and endorsements push this number to exceed $6 million in some coaches’ cases. The average college basketball coach makes near $4 million dollars as well (Bandow). Coaches can sign multi-million dollar contracts, endorse products, and rake in lucrative speaking fees, but if a highly acknowledged quarterback signs one item for money, he is failing to respect the NCAA rules.

Sure the coaches put in countless hours of work and it is their profession while college athletes are there to learn, but the athletes are the ones missing classes to play. They are the ones that travel across the country on a weekly basis to play, and they are the ones that miss out on the full college experience in order to play. What does full college experience mean? Well big time college athletes are limited and they don’t see college how regular students do. They don’t even have time to get a job, and although most don’t want a job, they probably need one to help pay for their basic needs (Burton). If universities have enough to be paying their coaches millions of dollars, they have enough to throw to the athletes in order for them to get by.

It seems like everyone is banking off these athletes hard work and dedication and it is not fair. College football and basketball are religions for a lot of people across the country. Author Doug Bandow says it the best actually: “Millions of aging, overweight men relive their youth by cheering on their favorite teams. The system of ‘student-athletic’ run by the National Collegiate Athletic Association is big business” (Bandow). Bandow proves people live for big-time college athletics. Pay the ones who deserve it, forget fairness. Sounds harsh, but can anyone disagree that they deserve it?

Renowned ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon has a lot to say about this topic. He has been debating for years that college athletes already have exactly what they need: a full ride scholarship to a school of their choice. However, he has recently changed his mind by writing a strongly worded article demeaning his original side of the issue. After his rant on the billions of dollars that TV companies make off of college football and basketball, he avowed: “Let me declare up front I wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in distributing the funds equitably or even paying every college athlete. I’m interested in seeing the people who produce the revenue share a teeny, tiny slice of it.

That’s right, football and men’s basketball players get paid; lacrosse, field hockey, softball, baseball, soccer players get nothing. You know what that’s called? Capitalism. Not everything is equal, not everything is fair. The most distinguished professor at the University of Alabama won’t make $5.9 million in his entire tenure in Tuscaloosa; Nick Saban will make that this year. So I don’t want to hear that it’s ‘unfair’ to pay the quarterback of Alabama more than all the sociology students in the undergraduate college.” (Wilbon)

Sounds pretty harsh right? But think about it, can one really say he’s wrong? He is beyond knowledgeable for this given topic and personally, there were a lot of valuable points he brought to hand. An opposer can’t argue that it’s fair to pay the football coach of Alabama close to $6 million a year and then pay a highly intelligent professor a fraction of that. So the point of “unfairness” that most members of the NCAA board bring to the surface is unsound. Michael Wilbon said it the best; life is unfair, the people who chose to play field hockey or swimming have to understand that they are actually there for an education. Let’s be honest, they aren’t really looking for a future in that sport, and the ones that are, good for them. However, these student-athletes are not raking in wheel barrels full of money to their schools and other corporations. Therefore, it actually seems unfair to include them in this spectrum. A Heisman-caliber Division I athlete, on average, can generate about $800,000 for his school in a year, nearly $3 million if he decides to stay all four years (Weintraub).

One would argue that swimmers don’t even generate a fraction of that. Moreover, author Sam Oleson of the Chippewa Herald added another point that goes hand and hand with Wilbon’s argument. After talking about the ridiculous amount of money that TV companies make off student football and basketball players, he declared that the high paying sports deserve a distributed portion of the income (Oleson), just as Wilbon stated. He then stated, “A No. 6 tennis player doesn’t benefit from it. But, that No. 6 tennis player isn’t competing for a team drawing 80,000 fans to a stadium or selling thousands of jerseys. Not fair, but we live in a capitalistic society” (Oleson). Now think about that; that is a fact that one simply could not argue, just as Wilbon’s facts were on point. Everyone is going to run into some iniquitousness more than a few times in their life. The people who earned what they have obviously deserve it, can someone possibly say that college football and basketball players haven’t earned it? Come on.

However, this is completely unfeasible. This is not going to fly at all; although there is a significant amount of pros to paying college athletes, the cons outweigh them. It’s upsetting to me that it will never happen, at least in this generation, but that’s how the system works. Primarily, paying them would cause a logistic nightmare; the process of evenly distributing all that money from all those different companies is a near impossible task (Currie). It would take years to think up a way to create a fair revenue-distribution scheme, especially because not all FBS and FCS (Football Bowl Series) and (Football Championship Series) teams make an enormous amount of money (Currie). Thousands of NCAA swimmers, runners, wrestlers, even volleyball players put the same time and effort into their sport. Even without any hope of one day signing a multi-million dollar professional sports contract. These players will likely fall behind if the NCAA decides to pay athletes unrestricted (Wilder).

Additionally, the fact that college athletes receive lucrative scholarships just denotes that they don’t deserve a dime more, in a lot of people’s opinions at least (Currie). Many people avow that school paid in full and other benefits such as free food and travel is more than enough.

“What part of ‘student-athlete’ don’t you understand? Turning these kids into de facto salaried professionals would irrevocably transform college sports, make a further mockery of the ‘academic mission’ that schools claim to be pursuing, and exacerbate corruption” (Currie). This quote was derived from an article written by Duncan Currie, an insightful author who has a lot of background in this on-going issue. He is completely against the thought of paying college athletes, as one can easily tell from the quote. The idea of being a student-athlete is the most important thing for a lot of spectators and members of the NCAA board. Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, was quoted saying: “If we move toward a pay-for-play model — if we were to convert our student athletes to employees of the university that would be the death of college athletics. Then they are subcontractors. Why would you even want them to be students? Why would you care about their graduation rates? Why would you care about their behavior?” (Nocera)

These are kids that are still in their teens or lower twenties. It’s going to look bad on the NCAA if all the sudden they decide to compensate the naïve, young men who are more than likely financially illiterate. One would have to be pretty ballsy to argue against that, it makes perfect sense. Yet there has to be some other options because as much as the NCAA promotes “amateurism,” it is still a multi-billion dollar industry (Oleson).

Probably the main thing that diminishes any chance of college athletes getting paid is Title IX. Title IX is a federal law that requires athletic departments to spend the same amount of money on women’s athletics as they do men’s. This changes everything, it’s impossible to stay fair with this law in effect (Howard). However it is not necessary to stay completely fair. There are two solutions that are pretty rational. Advocates for paying college athletes believe that students that attend eminent schools and produce billions of dollars in TV contracts alone deserve a chunk. For example, the BCS or Bowl Championship Series consists of ten conferences. Within these conferences, the teams combined generate an annual revenue of about 220 million dollars, whereas non BCS teams only generate about 25 million dollars (Burton). Still a large sum of money, but not nearly as much as the BCS is producing.

Some may wonder what the solution is to all of this controversy, but for right now there is no solidified answer. However, there are a few potential alternatives. Alternatives of paying college athletes are much more realistic. The avid fanatics that are in such need to see big-time college football and basketball get paid are being too idealistic with their own opinions. Despite the fact that intelligent analysts like Michael Wilbon and insightful writers like Sam Oleson have brought an abundant amount of information to the surface being in favor, at the end of the day it won’t work out. To be clear, Big-time college athletes should be paid, but realistically this will never fly. Throughout this article there are many pros listed for compensating college athletes; but for ever pro, there was a con. That is why illustrating a couple of alternatives will give big-time college athletes more freedom and better benefits.

Option one: simply let the athletes make their own money. Instead of paying college athletes, which is systematically near impossible to pull off (considering Title IX, non- revenue sports and everything else), why not just allow them to independently pursue ways to make money off their own name (Burton)? Sounds almost too simple, but as of right now there are too many codes and rules against any athlete making money off his/her name. Johnny Manziel, one of the nation’s most decorated college athletes, was forced to sit on the bench during the first half of the first game of the season. He violated NCAA rules by being accused of signing autographs for money. This is considered to be unjust and would normally result in extreme punishment, but the NCAA failed to carry out their own protocol. Him only sitting one half was basically the NCAA admitting that he did something wrong but could not take the publicity hit of forcing its biggest star to sit for an extended period of time (Wilder).

In essence, the NCAA was afraid of losing money because a star performer was out, so they didn’t even follow their own rules. Talk about corrupt. This is why displaying the argument that the NCAA should nullify the rule against a player profiting off their own name, is important. It would put an end to all of the unjustness and corruptness buried deep within the NCAA. Why can a pre-law major receive all the gifts and money that he or she wants, but an athlete, oh no. All a result of the rash “amateur” title that they have to embrace (Burton).

Allowing them to make a buck here and there would end all issues dealing with the compensation of college athletes. This argument can speak for a lot of people when people are tired of seeing constant bickering on TV about paying college athletes. It is time to come to an agreement, and this is the simplest option. If a college player wants to do an autograph signing where he gets paid, or some local car dealership wants to put the kid in a commercial and pay him, then let them (Burton).

Finally, option number two. The National College Players Association is a group whom advocate that top-tier Division I football and basketball players have a market value of about $100,000 apiece (Oleson). This alternative that will be presented is a phenomenal way of putting an end to all this madness and giving the athletes the worth they deserve: “It suggests that players playing in the revenue sports, like football and basketball, should receive a portion of new revenues (such as TV contracts) to be put in an ‘educational lockbox.’ If and when an athlete graduates or uses up his athletic eligibility, he would be allowed to keep that money. If he leaves school early to go pro or simply drops out, the money would stay with the school.” (Oleson)

The way Sam Oleson exhibited this solution is quite astonishing. Putting the money in the lockbox means that the players are not technically getting paid or benefiting from it in the present, but rather receiving it in the future when they need to pay off student loans, housing, or other miniscule expenses. There is not a flaw with this solution, or alternative. This goes for all schools as well, big or small. Schools will be able to divvy up the excess income they receive from athletics; that includes TV contracts, endorsements, events, etc. Yes, some schools are going to have smaller amounts of money in their lock-boxes, but the students attending that school must understand.

After all, a student attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater knows going into school that their facilities aren’t going to be nearly as high-tech and glorious as ones you might find at the University of Oregon. Same concept. Some might ask what happens to the kids who graduate early to enter the pros; if they’re fortunate enough to enter the next level and make six figures, then they do not receive the money from the lockbox. Perfectly fair. Lastly and most importantly, this would in the end lead to higher graduation rates for the average big time universities. In reality, players declare for the NFL (National Football League) or NBA (National Basketball Association) because they are broke and in a lot of cases in dire need to help out their poor families, but if they knew that they had that safety net below them, they might not decide to leave early and maybe instead graduate with a degree (Oleson).

This is a very appropriate solution and the NCAA should look into it. There are a surplus of benefits and little to no consequences involved with the process. College football and basketball players do deserve to be paid, but it’s unfeasible for many reasons listed that were listed earlier. However, if we put the “educational lockbox” system into play, the future is going to be bright for the NCAA and all of its members. More importantly, those who believe that big-time college athletes are impoverished and treated as servants will be silenced. If ever accomplished, not only will they get what they want, but the National Collegiate Athlete Association could gain ample strength and create a future that is beyond beneficial.

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