Random Thoughts on Paying College Athletes

17 May 2014 /

Where is the money going to come from? Most people seem to think that college athletic programs are big money makers. They aren’t. Despite the big revenue dollars associated with two sports — football and men’s basketball — 90 percent of Division I athletic programs, because of the much larger number of non-revenue sports, operate at a loss. They’re subsidized by the general fund of the university. Paying athletes would require additional dollars to be directed away from academic endeavors: hiring and paying professors, funding research, offering financial aid to non-athletes, etc.

 

Title IX requires gender equity. You couldn’t just pay football players and men’s basketball players. Everyone would need to be paid equally in some sense, even in non-revenue sports.

 

How much money are we talking about? Let’s say at a medium to large school, we have 500 to 1,000 student athletes and we’re going to pay all of them a modest stipend of $10,000. That’s a cost of 5 to 10 million dollars a year. Sorry, Mom and Dad, that your kid couldn’t get the classes he or she needed to graduate in four years but when we pink-slipped professors so we could pay the athletes, we had to cut back on the number of available courses.

 

Are college athletes being exploited imposed upon financially? It makes sense to consider athletes in two groups:

  1. Future professional athletes. They have available to them a large group of coaches and support staff whose job is to prepare them athletically and promote them so as to make as much money as possible in highly lucrative occupations. If they don’t get paid right now, they’ll get paid a lot of money very soon.
     
  2. Everyone else (a much bigger group). Everyone else will have to go forth into the world and try to earn a living in some non-athletic pursuit. An athletic scholarship gives them the benefit of a paid-for college education that most of them would not otherwise receive. What is the monetary value of that over the course of a lifetime? Quite a lot.
 

With all the national and local sports networks, playing football or basketball at a Division I school makes you not only a big man on campus, but a local, if not national, celebrity. It’s fun! You get to play games with your buddies, travel around, stay in nice hotels, appear on television. If you’re a good player, people will talk about you on TV, on the radio, on the Internet – constantly – like you’re some kind of an important person. There are worse things that can happen to you in life than being a Division I scholarship athlete.

 

All that being said, if you as a college athlete really feel that you are being taken advantage of and not adequately compensated for the value of your contribution, don’t play. It’s not exploitation if you do it voluntarily.


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