The National Football League’s annual revenue reaches $13 Billion. The NCAA brings in billions as well. The average NFL player makes $1.9 million a year. The average NCAA player … not so much. While many get their cost of attendance subsidized by a scholarship, schools are banned by the NCAA from paying a penny more while the association, athletic conferences and schools across the country rake in millions.
Last fall, a federal court struck down the NCAA’s ban on paying college athletes. Soon after, the NCAA began to allow college athletic programs to pay an additional cash stipend of a few thousand dollars to their athletes to cover living expenses, meaning athletes who complain of going to bed hungry may have some relief.
The debate of whether student athletes can or should be considered employees rages on. The argument often goes that they are indeed amateurs, and as student-athletes, their primary job is to be a college student. In many instances, that may very well be the case. But that is not always so, especially among the top programs in college football and men’s basketball.
Players frequently have to miss dozens of days of class in order to participate in their sport. In order for their players to maintain eligibility, schools across the country have been found pushing their athletes through courses that would be hardly recognizable as a college class.
One notorious example is Hall of Fame Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley, who admitted at age 30 that he couldn’t read, despite graduating high school and attending Oklahoma State University. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s an epidemic of illiterate athletes getting a pass through college, but the issue exists.
Last year, two former athletes filed a class-action lawsuit against UNC-Chapel Hill for academic fraud, claiming they had not received the education they were promised and instead were enrolled in a substantial number of “fake classes.” If a core argument as to why student athletes shouldn’t be paid is that they already are by getting a free college education, they ought to be attending classes that will benefit them after graduation.
The majority of college athletes will never sign a professional contract, and for those that do, it doesn’t bear as much fruit as they may have hoped. The average NFL career lasts just over three seasons. NBA players do better, averaging close to five. Regardless, the odds are stacked heavily against student athletes ever being financially secure based on their athletic careers alone.
The demands of being a student athlete often rival or even surpass the workload of a full-time employee. Many student athletes report spending close to or in some instances well over 40 hours per week training, practicing and playing their sport, leaving no time for a part-time job for extra money.
A quality college education should be a guarantee for every player and should take priority over throwing, kicking or shooting a ball for 40 hours a week, unless, of course, student athletes were to be classified as quasi-employees. It could be done a number of ways: perhaps offer a deferment of their full education until after their athletic career, or offer an additional stipend that makes putting their bodies on the line for their school worth it.
It’s undoubtable that student athletes are a tremendous asset to their schools in any number of ways. The University of Alabama would not be the research institution it is today without the revenue of their athletic programs. Universities receive millions in endowments from alumni, thanks in part to their athletic programs.
For many schools, it’s just about getting their name on the map. Who would have heard of Gonzaga if not for their basketball program? I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard “You go to George Mason? Weren’t they in the Final Four recently?” (I was 11 years old when Mason made it into the Final Four, but if that counts as recent, then sure.) For many schools, just having that level of name recognition is invaluable.
In 40 states, the highest paid public employee is a state university athletic director or coach. Alabama generates more revenue through their athletic programs than any NHL team and 25 NBA teams. The value of the NCAA’s Final Four TV contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting is over $10 billion. The high-salaried coaches, the colossal stadiums, the billion-dollar TV contracts would all be worthless without the players.
It would be close to impossible to pay a majority of student athletes. Most athletic programs don’t generate a profit, and most college sports don’t have the audience that college football and basketball do. However, for those programs that are well in the black, they should be able to offer a deferred salary as a recruitment tool and have a moral obligation to pay up when their cash cow hits. It’s insane and immoral to not demand that student athletes who generate enormous revenue for their schools receive not just a full education, but are duly compensated.