Noted financial writer Joe Nocera has a compelling piece in The New York Times recommending that colleges pay athletes. It is a lengthy piece worth reading.
My older brother played college basketball, and I saw firsthand the challenges of balancing tournaments at Madison Square Garden with schoolwork. He never slept.
My family has been stuck in small airports where female sports teams were also awaiting delayed flights. One was the University of Virginia golf team, and the other was the University of Florida soccer team.
In both cases, we were impressed to see these athletes sitting on the floor reading, working on term papers and doing math. I pointed out to my kids that college athletes aren’t off the hook for their schoolwork just because they have to fly to a game. We ended up chatting with a Florida soccer player who told us that she also held a part-time job in addition to soccer and a prelaw major. I doubt she got much sleep, either.
Given the demands on college athletes, I think Nocera’s ideas to pay them merit consideration.
Among his points:
The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
Players aren’t stupid. They look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in the bookstores. They see 100,000 people in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. During the season, they can end up putting in 50-hour weeks at their sports, and they learn early on not to take any course that might require real effort or interfere with the primary reason they are on campus: to play football or basketball. The N.C.A.A. can piously define them as students first, but the players know better. They know they are making money for the athletic department. The N.C.A.A.’s often-stated contention that it is protecting the players from “excessive commercialism” is ludicrous; the only thing it’s protecting is everyone else’s revenue stream. (The N.C.A.A. itself takes in nearly $800 million a year, mostly from its March Madness TV contracts.) “Athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, a prominent sports agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”
After several months researching the issue, Nocera says he came up with a five-element plan to pay college athletes. The elements are:
A modified free-market approach to recruiting college players.
A salary cap for every team, along with a minimum annual salary for every scholarship athlete. The salary caps I have in mind are pretty low, all things considered: $3 million for the salaries for the football team, and $650,000 for basketball, with a minimum salary of $25,000 per athlete.
Every player who stays in school for four years would also get an additional two-year scholarship, which he could use either to complete his bachelor’s or get a master’s degree.
Each player would have lifetime health insurance.
An organization would be created to represent both current and former college athletes. It may well turn out to be that this body takes on the form of a players’ union, since a salary cap is illegal under antitrust law unless it is part of a collective-bargaining agreement. (That’s why most professional sports leagues embrace players’ unions.)
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog