Student-athletes are the unsung heroes on college campuses across the country, in terms of financial recognition. Yes, they are idolized by their fellow students and may receive special consideration from their professors, but in terms of financial recognition these heroes are unpaid. That should change, especially considering the amount of money in this new “big business.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is just one of the players in this game. Mark Emmert leads the NCAA and as the czar of college sports, he has a very opinionated view when asked if his college athletes should receive a paycheck. In a New York Times op-ed, columnist Joe Nocera quoted Mr. Emmert: “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?”
Mr. Emmert, think of it as work-study.
This powerful statement was from almost two years ago and the NCAA president did not change his mind. After a $2,000 “stipend” was issued to incoming freshman student-athlete, it was quickly withdrawn based on a collective complaints from athletic directors and commissioners. What was their rationale? It was too expensive.
It is a fact that college football and basketball are big business. These sports bring in hundreds of millions each season and the players are not treated like employees, because they aren't employees. But if they were paid would they really turn into subcontractors, as Emmert claims? Student-athletes' workload on the fields often equate to 40+ hours. Their scholarships that pay for their education at heavily discounted rates often fall short of the full cost of a college education.
How much money are we talking about here? In college football during the 2011-2012 season, the Texas Longhorns (ranking #1 in this category) brought in $104.5 million from football alone. In comparison, USC was #25, with only $34.5 million. Time Warner, CBS, and TBS signed a $10.8 billion contract with the NCAA to televise March Madness, giving each of the 68 teams in the tournament a national audience.
Take the University of Texas at Austin as an example again. The school has a contract with ESPN worth $300 million over 20 years for their own channel, called the Longhorns Network. The athletic department is not the sole receiver of that money, as the school will use some of the money for academic purposes, and the network will cover other sports besides football and basketball.
Mack Brown, the Longhorns football coach, is one of the (if not the) highest paid public employee in the nation, with a $5+ million per year salary. That is over 12 times more than what President Obama makes . If some of that wealth were split up among the players, maybe there would be fewer scandals when other star athletes, such as Johnny Manziel, get money from signing autographs.
There are several proposals to fix the system in favor of the student-athletes. In the Times article, Nocera said he would align college basketball and football programs with the practices of their professional leagues. Just as the NFL and NBA have a collective bargaining agreement and players association, so too would collegiate student-athletes. Their pay will be based on market forces so their skill and position will be the highest factors of consideration.
That market-based solution is similar to one proposed by University of Michigan professor Andrei Markovits, who in a Huffington Post blog broadens the number of college athletes who can be paid, though not through the university. Boosters and alumni would determine how much the quarterback and the point guard will earn as well as the golfer or tennis player. This idea of letting the market decide is further supported by David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University, who also claims it will boost competition.
The student-athletes are the reason schools makes so much money off of sporting events, especially football and basketball. Not every athlete receives a scholarship and still devotes an enormous amount of time to his or her sport. If this were the 1920s, it would be a different story, but this is the 21st century and big business is now on campus. The employees need to be paid.