Monocle Outlays Reaching Dangerous Levels Comment Count

Brian April 1st, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Sorry this is late. Spent large chunks of the afternoon futilely trying to Google hard numbers on spiraling coach salaries.


You wouldn't know it from the college football world's reaction to HBO's most recent edition of Real Sports—best summed up by Michigan tight end Kevin Koger, who tweeted "They snitched on Auburn lol"—but the point of the thing was a little broader than the Paul Finebaum show. It was yet another discussion about the NCAA's amateurism brought about by March Madness.

This is a near-annual rite. Attention to the tournament invariably sees journalists bring up the eye-popping dollars CBS pays to air it, at which point someone's always like "hey, these players aren't getting any of that" and we get roundtables inexplicably containing Jason Whitlock, Rich Rodriguez, and Billy Packer. Since this is the first year of an even more eye-popping contract we've gotten a heavier dose than usual this year, one sufficient to prompt responses from John Gasaway and Big Ten Geeks. Oh, and also this.

Pieces on these tend to be maddeningly soapboxy. The headline on Whitlock's latest column is witheringly dumb: "Greedy NCAA exploits athletes." The content isn't much better. In an effort to keep things as engineery as possible, a series of questions and a table.

Who is hypothetically getting exploited?

Football and basketball players in power conferences. Nothing else consistently turns a profit. In other sports that occasionally do—baseball and hockey—there is an alternate development path for anyone who doesn't like the NCAA model. The only restriction placed on those players is that baseball players who pass up a contract out of high school have to stay in college at least three years. In other conferences even successful schools like VCU are throwing money down a pit—77% of their "revenue" comes from student fees*. 

Who is benefiting from hypothetical exploitation?

Three parties:

  • Non-revenue athletes. About 30% of Michigan's expenses are related to housing, educating, transporting, and outfitting athletes with another 16% devoted to giving them places to play.
  • Coaches. 17% of Michigan's revenue pays them.
  • Everyone else. 21% of Michigan's revenue goes to the rest of the department.

It is clear that as revenue rises, Coaches and Everyone Else take up an increasingly large chunk of the pie. In the last ten years Michigan has added PSLs to its football seats and seen television revenue skyrocket. They've gone from 25 to 27 sports, and they'll add two more in the near future when lacrosse and a sop to Title IX are added.

Operating revenue has gone from 78 million in 2004-05 to 106 million last year. Outlays to students have gone from 11.4 million to 15.7. Coaches have gone from 9.3 to 14.7, and Everyone Else from 12.3 to 18.5. Chart? Chart.

Michigan outlays to scholarships, coaches, and administrators (millions)

  2004 2010 Pct 2004 Pct 2010
Total 78 106 N/A N/A
Scholarships 11.4 15.7 14.6% 14.8%
Coaches 9.3 14.7 11.9% 13.9%
Everyone Else 12.3 18.5 15.8% 17.5%

Students are essentially constant as a percentage of revenue, and that's only because tuition keeps skyrocketing as long as anyone can get a federal non-dischargeable student loan. They're watching the people around them eat up more and more as a percentage of revenues as places like Michigan get big enough that costs like flying people around and building stuff top out. And this is over six years! In 2007 the average compensation of a D-I head coach averaged one million dollars; last year it had already gone up 36%. When I wrote about Michigan putting EMU on the schedule in 2007 I ran across a now-linkrotted Bloomberg article with this stunning fact:

This relatively ancient Bloomberg article from March 2005 takes a look at the increase in NCAA coaching salaries across the board from '97 to '03 and finds that average compensation went up 89 percent in just six years. This is before the twelfth game. (Though it's noted that there were some twelfth games in there. That was a calendar quirk and not permanent policy, however.) This is before 3-2-5e*. This before Superfluous BCS Bowl and The Two Teams With Six Wins Each bowls. This includes the obscurest coaches you can think of, like Romanian Buffalo Polo.

Eighty-nine percent in six years.


*[The hated clock rules that got repealed after one year were at the time loathed enough to be referred to solely by bylaw.]

Is there a real case here?

It's getting to the point where the Whitlocks of the world are not entirely crazy. There was a time when Bo Schembechler was making 100k per year and had to have a tearful press conference because Texas A&M offered him the life-changing sum of one million dollars and he turned it down. At that juncture anyone crying about exploitation was nuts, not that there was anyone doing that.

HOWEVA. Given the revenue growth at major universities there is a point at which even the student managers are walking around wearing monocles and puffing cigars and there will be a unified popular opinion that we can no longer treat the people doing the bulk of the labor like Oliver Twist except with infinite sex and training table. Which, granted, isn't much like Oliver Twist at all. But at some point it seems like it.

I don't know how much of the uptick in "Everyone Else" for Michigan is adding to the legions dedicated to getting athletes their educations. It's some. It's probably not that much when you consider the revenue athletes specifically and it certainly isn't enough to look a the above chart without a sense of foreboding as to where this is going. It is clear as day Michigan has money to spend on these athletes, and that goes for every team sporting a coach making too much money relative to revenues (in case you are wondering: this is all of them).

The money goes somewhere. It doesn't go to more rowers. It goes to the literal and metaphorical scaffolding around the athletes, and being in Michigan Stadium these days looking up at luxury boxes and down at Denard Robinson kind of makes me think this Oliver Twist point is in the past, at least for me.

So what now, smart guy?

I'm not actually sure. I do know that guys like Andrew Zimbalist who advocate the reduction of scholarship limits are precisely wrong about the problem. The outlay to keep a  football player around is the only thing that has remained relatively constant over the course of the Knight Commission's infinite complaints about costs. They've gone up by the cost of tuition. Coaching salaries have gone up by multiples.

The fact that anyone's even talking about making cuts to the sole redeeming bit of the whole enterprise speaks to just how badly the system is messed up. Revenue sports are disproportionately populated by black males,** many of whom wouldn't have a shot at college otherwise. Cutting them so you can keep paying the people around them in gold bullion is an idea only an academic economist could come up with.

The opposite would be better. Hockey has 18 scholarships, three short of fielding a full team. Baseball has some weird number like 11.7. Many athletes make do with partial or no scholarships in equivalency sports. The NCAA should significantly raise those restrictions. Small schools will complain about unbalancing the playing field and blah blah but we are talking about putting kids on scholarship, not autobids. An unbalanced playing field because one school has offered to pay for more tuition than the other is justified. It's beyond justified.

As for the guys making the actual money, I'm not that peeved about basketball since 99% of the exploited are good enough to go on to pro careers here or in Europe and anyone good enough can just screw off after a year or two. It's in football and its brain damage and other damage and low chance of a reasonable minor league career and low chance of an NFL career longer than three years that the moral compass gets a little confused. It's hard to look at 110,000 people paying close to 100 bucks a head and look down at Martavious Odoms and think he's not getting a raw deal.


*[Numbers come from the USA Today database. Unfortunately, it doesn't produce permalinks. VCU's specific case highlights the stupidity of the OTL piece on athletic departments making a "profit". The Rams are 600k in the red even with 12.4 million in student support. They are nowhere close to self-sustaining.]

**[45% in football and 60% in basketball this year; in all D-I sports white guys are 63% of the population; 77% of women playing sports are white; 57% of the undergrads are women.]


MI Expat NY

April 1st, 2011 at 4:47 PM ^

Between you, Gassaway, and Big Ten Geeks, there was more rational thought on this matter than has appeared in traditional media in the last 20 years.  Thank you.


April 1st, 2011 at 4:47 PM ^

"and that goes for every team sporting a coach making too much money relative to revenues (in case you are wondering: this is all of them)"

i'm not sure you can say this in light of added value and supply and demand.  it really is a coaches game

that said, i agree that if they wanted to pay athletes the money could probably be found, and some would probably come from coaches' salaries


April 1st, 2011 at 4:55 PM ^

is greater than it necessarily has to be.  I read in the Canham book that the athletic department pays out of state tuition for all scholarship athletes.  If it wanted to could pay in-state for those who lived in Michigan, but chooses to do so to help benefit the University. 

Blue in Seattle

April 1st, 2011 at 11:08 PM ^

There are 12 Men's sports listed and 13 Women's sports listed.  Women's Rowing is on the list.

Cheerleading is in the category of "More" as a separate item from "Varsity Club Sports".  Under Varsity Club Sports is both men's and women's lacrosse, and the men's rowing club.

It's amazing what you can learn about Michigan sports from the university web site.



April 1st, 2011 at 11:12 PM ^

Duh, thank you.  I, like many others, went to the MGoBlue website and counted 25 sports, and yes, noticed that cheerleading was listed under "more."  I also, like many others, wondered why 27 is cited, which as was mentioned doesn't include upcoming lacrosse additions.  So perhaps you have something constructive rather than patronizing to add on that.


April 1st, 2011 at 5:35 PM ^

If we assume for a second that the NCAA won't cling to it's ideal of the amateur student athlete until its dying breath, I think the biggest problem becomes defining which schools (and which teams of those schools) would pay players.  Only schools with revenue-producing athletic departments?  Only revenue-producing teams? 

How much does a team have to make before it has to pay players? One dollar? 

Also, who is going to police the finances of schools?  Further, will all players for all Big Ten teams (for example) be paid the same? Or will players get a cut of their school's profit, so that you might make $20,000/yr at Michigan and $5,000 at Indiana? 

I don't mean to sugest that these questions are unanswerable, but they are difficult. 


April 1st, 2011 at 6:00 PM ^

assuming, as we all must, that the idea of the college athlete as "amateur athlete" is put to rest. (When I play coed rec-league sand volleyball, I'm an amateur.)

The NCAA simply lifts restrictions on paying players. No school has to pay them above and beyond what they're getting now ... it's up to the school. (Presumably this would be most applicable at what is now I-A football, but I suppose there might be a question about what happens at lower divisions, particularly DII and DIII, if you have an enterprising soul who wants to buy a title.) Obviously that would mean that I-A schools would need to pay their players something.

I don't think it would be a viable option to pay everyone the same, even on one team at one school ... and by "viable" I mean in terms of a solution that will compensate the players appropriately. It would probably be the only solution that would fit within the framework of college football as we know it today, and even then you would see a reversal in the movement toward I-A programs: Sun Belt and some MAC schools who are barely hanging on would have to drop down, they just wouldn't be able to compete, even with fixed costs.

And that's the question I think is difficult to answer, or perhaps the set of questions. The system that would be fairest to the players would be to allow the market to decide the amount of money they get paid ... what, then, happens to I-A football? It would certainly have to split ... if there were no cap on payments, you might get I-A, I-AA, and I-AAA football, with current I-AA dropping down to AAA and the weaker I-A schools dropping to I-AA. (Then again, if this applies to basketball as well, maybe DI as a whole would be redefined.) Schools like Michigan, Penn State, and Nebraska could probably come up with quite a bit of money ... but Indiana and Northwestern likely would not.

Would the teams even continue to be associated with the schools? It seems like a silly question at first, but think about it for a bit. As much as we might say "just take X% from the coaches, divide up the scholarship money, and add in Y% extra from alumni", it's more likely to be "keep the coaches' salaries the same, increase support from alumni by Y*2%, and increase ticket prices by 200%." or more.

I think that major college sports are now where professional sports were through the '60s, maybe, well before free agency. Games were affordable because the owners didn't have to pay the players much at all ... when that logjam finally broke, owners didn't split the profits with the players, they simply found additional sources of revenue.

AFAIK cheap seats at a college game are already comparable in price to cheap seats at a pro game (again, for major programs) ... if a significant amount of additional money is required, does it come from ticket increases? Do students still get discounts? What happens if they don't?

For that matter, do sports still run together as a whole? Would football and basketball still support not only themselves, but the rest of the program too? And if not ... from where does that money come?

Those, I think, are the hard questions to answer. And maybe they're the same questions as yours, just a little farther down the road.


April 1st, 2011 at 5:07 PM ^

Brian-You've alluded to Paul Finebaum a couple of times in the past few weeks. After spending 11 long years in Birmingham the mere mention of that muck rakers name places me perilously close to restless bowel syndrone. I now live in Columbus so please have mercy on me.







April 1st, 2011 at 5:22 PM ^

if all student athletes were to get a "salary" of the minimum wage multiplied by the max number of hours that the NCAA allows for games and practice (not conditioning, films, training table, tutoring, etc) which is currenlty 20 hours, i think i would be cool with that.  the wage could be raised by a percentage for every year the player stays.

so if a freshman football player makes $7.25 x 20 hours / week x approx 20 weeks practice and games, that would be $2900 a year.  lets say there are 20 freshman, that would be $58,000 for them, and the wage raises by 10% per academic year (63.8k for20 soph, 69.6k for 20 juniors, 75,4k for 20 seniors).  this means that the whole football team would make $267,100 for the entire year or about 1% of michigan's annual seat licenses at $250 each for 110,000.

i don't know how many athletes there are at michigan, but they would all get the same amount. i guess you could also localize the wage for local cost of living, but that is too much for this post.

i know this isn't much across the entire academic year, $85 a week, but its better than nothing and it keeps a level playing field across all sports and universities.

Space Coyote

April 1st, 2011 at 5:40 PM ^

But when a student is only making a less than $3000 a year, the same problems are going to persist.  Even at a 10% pay raise per year, the reasons to bolt to the pros, still get paid, etc. are way more than any pay to play could offer.

Then problem is, if you offer more, you are unfair to smaller schools.  If you make the pay a percentage of the revenue, then you kill off some schools and make about 10 schools (Michigan included) power schools that really can't be touched.  The competitive balance would be gone.

The complexity of this issue makes it nearly impossible to solve.  If one school pays players a certain amount, all schools need to be able to pay the same amount, otherwise it is another competitive disadvantage.  The status quo will basically never change.  But all schools can't afford to spend that much, so solutions like your own are proposed.  These are nice in theory, but in reality will result in the same problem we have now.

I'm not bashing your idea, all I'm trying to say is that there is no way to approach this in a simple manner (which I'm not saying you don't agree with either).


April 1st, 2011 at 5:56 PM ^

Agree, min wage is too small. But I think the idea is to recognize that all athletes make a successful athletic department, not just revenue sports rather than stave off massive cheating or bolting from school early. There is no amount you can pay someone that will satisfy greed. While min wage is probably too token you could surely double it and still have plenty left over for coaches. I think it would have to be equal across all schools and sports though too avoid discrepancies.


April 1st, 2011 at 6:15 PM ^

what about volleyball players? Gymnastics?  Hockey?  Should we not pay them too?  Is this "amateur" argument only applicable to football, basketball?  Some schools (like BU) don't have a football program but they have a solid hockey program.  I'm not sure about their financials but let's say they generate revenue.  Do those guys get paid?  What about at a place like, say, Penn State.  Let's say they don't generate revenue... do they get paid?  There's a lot more to think about than just football here.  Maybe you've addressed it and I missed it.


April 1st, 2011 at 5:35 PM ^

I really hate when people cast this in terms of race.  Football and basketball bring in money because of their large fanbases.  Lacross not so much because of its relatively small fanbase.  Race doesn't play a factor in why this comes about, and in my view, it should not factor in to the discussion. 

If you want to talk about what the revenue athletes get in exchange for generating a bazillion $$ for the university, they get a lifetime advantage in the job market.  If a kid plays for Michigan football, he can get in the door of just about any job in the state of Michigan (assuming he meets the qualifications).  Once in an interview, with any Michigan alum or fan, that kid has a huge advantage.  Who wouldn't want to shoot the shit with a member of Bo's teams?  It is an instant advantage in job searching, and it lasts a life time.  For many of these kids - from underprivileged minority backgrounds - they go from someone who might be at an instant DISadvantage in a job search relative to comparable applicants to having an instant advantage. 

This lifetime benefit does NOT exist for the "non-revenue sport" athletes such as wrestling or golf. 

So yes, revenue sport players generate more benefit for the school, but they also get benefits that other athletes do not get.





April 1st, 2011 at 6:27 PM ^

michgoblue, I always agree with about half of what you say. In this case, I completely agree about race. No place in this discussion, at all.

OTOH, I think the point you're missing WRT benefits derived is that they are still not fairly compensated. Even if one could calculate an economic value to "being Denard Robinson", he's still not seeing anywhere near a fair wage. I'm not saying the school should pay Denard what he's worth, just pointing out that the benefits you list don't exclude the possibility of exploitation.

Zone Left

April 2nd, 2011 at 12:21 AM ^

The current market wouldn't agree that a normal grant-in-aid is a fair wage. Due to the NFL's age restrictions on entry into the professional football player marketplace, the college market has a monopoly in a traditional economic sense. In an Econ 101 sense, the NCAA members have colluded together to create a universal wage for football players from the age of 18-21 that doesn't take into account talent, skill, or desire. In essence, the free market has been eliminated for football players.

The only real market for highly talented football players is the NFL and even they've agreed to a wage ceiling. 


April 2nd, 2011 at 10:50 AM ^

Your comment is well-intended, but i think it is a specious argument.  Like it or not, race plays a big factor in this discussion.  The disproportionate number of African-Americans in D1 college football & basketball (the revenue-genrating sports) is a statistic that cannot be casually swept aside.  A significant number of these athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and are the most vulnerable to the abuses in the system (ie, being steered to "athlete" classes, etc.) and the most susceptible to the temptations of boosters.  Thrown into an environment where everyone else around them seems to have money, the temptation to accept free money, for the first time in their life, must be enormous. 

The popularity of college football and basketball has grown enormously in the past few decades.  Not coincidentially, so has the proportion of African-Americans on the team roster, and I don't hear anyone arguing that this year's Auburn team could not beat a championship team of thirty years ago; the teams now are simply better.  Part of this may be due to advancement in training facilities and techniques, but I think it is disenguous to imply that college football and basketball would be just as popular today regardless of the race of the players. 

As for your assertion, "Who wouldn't want to shoot the sh*t with a [Michigan football player]?", all I can say is that there is a big difference between "shooting the sh*t" with someone, and offering that person a job.  I don't have any answers, but I think a big reason this issue is coming iinto the foreground is the inherent social and economic imbalance of the characters in the story.  Let's face it, if everyone in college football came from a backgrond like Andrew Luck's, we probably wouldn't be talking about this. 


April 2nd, 2011 at 11:59 AM ^

I think the flaw in your post is saying that race is a factor, and then going immediately into economic standing. I'll definitely concede that most of the big time basketball players, for example, are black and come from poorer, urban areas. All of the symptoms you describe, though, are due to economic standing, independent from race. The fact that race is disproportionate does not make race a factor.

The NCAA exploits athletes. I can understand your point that a majority (going by Brian's numbers, I have no idea independently) are black, and that many come from poor backgrounds. However, the NCAA has kept this same model going back to the days before race was even a factor, with a bunch of bigots coaching and offering scholarships only to white players. I think that says race can be discounted when looking at the economic model of the NCAA. I would also say that the boom in popularity, and thus dollars, since then is irrelevant based on the assumption that the NCAA would have taken these huge contracts before black athletes came onto the scene.

Looking at this in an exploitation of the workers, classic Marxist way, I think this is all about "workers" v. "management", and has nothing to do with skin color.


April 1st, 2011 at 5:42 PM ^

Keep in mind that some of the money these schools are making goes to the corrupt bowls like the Fiesta Bowl.  It's insane that people that contribute almost nothing like these bowls do get such a huge slice of the income generated by the athletes.


April 1st, 2011 at 5:51 PM ^

Does the current NCAA scholarship rules allow for any kind of stipend as a part of scholarship packages?  I know plenty of academic scholarships that feature that, and some modest spending cash will take care of the athletes who are content with the usual college student beers and pizzas without having to pick up a part-time job on top of their athletic and academic full time jobs.


April 1st, 2011 at 5:54 PM ^

I think it does play a role in perceptions and cannot be so lightly dismissed. Football and basketball players tend to get plucked out of much more impoverished settings to play in the first place, which impacts in many ways,

but I don't think you're necessarily right about jobs and future outside sport. Just the other day someone was quoting some MSU football players to the effect that they wished they had studied something. M players may do better because they also absorb some schooling, because other grads do well, etc. This issue, too, has nuances, and--yeah--you may get a job at a car dealership in Starkville, some patronizing pats on the back, because you went to Mississippi State, but 99% of players are not stars, even at the best schools/on the best teams.


Intended as reply to Michgoblue, two doors down.


April 1st, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

The rich major Bowl organizers should put some of their profits into scholarship for deserving students who may not be able to afford college.

HC wages seem to be increasing exponentially but many colleges are willing to pay $$$ for the best coach and a top program that may result.  I like that Brady Hoke considered the Michigan job his dream job and did not care about the $$$. When I read that during the coaching search I was pulling for him to be our coach.

I'm not sure if we should pay players for playing. The smaller schools who do not generate income from their football program would be at a disadvantage. I could see this expanding from one basic low wage to increased compensation for the team starters and the size of the school you are playing for.

How many of us who went to school at UM would actually pay to play for Michigan, if we had anywhere near the talent to be on the team. I know, I would have! My childhood dream was to play on the UM football team. But unfortunate I did not have the speed or talent. But it was always fun playing High school football dreaming about playing for Michigan!


April 1st, 2011 at 6:20 PM ^

I've been an agnostic about paying players for a long time, but the ESPN doc about the Fab Five has somewhat changed my mind.  As I believe Brian pointed out, the most compelling part of the doc comes when Chris Webber faces the press corps after losing to UNC in the championship game. 

Maybe it was seemingly five-mile walk Chris Webber had to make from the court to the locker room, while phtographers snapped hundreds of pictures inches away from his face that changed my mind.  Maybe it was the assistant coach telling Webber in the locker room that he "had to" go face the questions from the press.  Maybe it was the relentless, "Chris, I hate to do this to you, but can you try to describe your infinite sadness a little better than you did for the previous ten questioners?"  I just don't think you can force an athlete to go through those three things and still call them an amateur.

biakabutuka ex…

April 1st, 2011 at 6:34 PM ^

The problem isn't that players are playing for free. that's what they do in high school. The problem is they are getting compensation (scholarship) that not all of them really want. But they should. They should really, really want a degree in a good major and if they don't understand this, their school has taught them literally nothing.

It's also that some of them will forfeit any money they hypothetically had coming to them due to injury (Tyrone Prothro, e.g.). Also, not all players are worth the same. I'm sorry, Coner fans, but he didn't make the school any money; Forcier did. Brandon Graham did. The VORP of David Cone is $0.00, as long as tie games aren't being settled with rap battles.

So, two problems need to be resolved: not all players are taking their education seriously, and some players are never going to be compensated for their talents due to injury. And other players are being compensated just fine. That's actually three problems. But there are two solutions:

1.) Schools must graduate any players that don't make the pros. Most schools will have a few burnouts which will evens itself out, and that'll cost them a scholarship a year, per burnout. But every signed player counts. But that's not enough. They should also keep some large sum of money in escrow for up to 5 years after their "senior" year. This money goes towards a real education where they aren't interrupted by practice and workouts 60 hours a week, and hopefully before it's too late for them to realize how important that education really was. Tyrone Prothro should not have a college degree and be a bank teller; other ex-players shouldn't have a college degree and be unemployable. It should also include some job placement stipends so they can find a damn job.

2.) Schools have to insure every player against lost future earnings in the pros. Some future first round picks already insure themselves. Everyone should be insured, and the school should pay for it. If you are a future 6th round pick and you suffer a career-ending injury, you should be compensated. This has the nice side effect of solving the whole "some players are worth more than others" debate. It's unfortunate, but it's a fact. Some players are lucky to be playing for a scholarship based on their talents. Others are being robbed right now, and they should be bitter if a career-ending injury prevented them from ever collecting on it.

That was a long comment, but that's my answer. If schools aren't happy with those rules, then they should just pay the players already. If players aren't happy with them, then they should go to the pros if they think they're so special.

biakabutuka ex…

April 2nd, 2011 at 1:31 PM ^

Umm, that already goes on. Everyone has a story about an athlete they know getting preferential treatment.

Schools that are cheating shouldn't get to pick and choose who they treat well in the classroom and who they don't. Either they make a concerted effort to graduate every player, or the two or three star athletes that they funnel through every year turns into 10-12, and the likelihood of one of them getting caught increases.  It's the lesser players that are more likely to speak up that their degree was worthless. The more of them there are, the easier it is to find a whistleblower. But the big idea isn't to get schools in trouble, it's to force them to get their acts together and hold up their part of the student-athlete bargain by making that the easier option.


April 1st, 2011 at 6:44 PM ^

Since the cohort of players who can make a reasonable claim to being "exploited" is vanishingly small (players who won't get huge pro contracts in 1-2 years if they want to in revenue producing sports at schools with self-supporting athletic departments), is this really a problem that needs solving? Especially since the cost of paying players will fall primarily on athletes (and tuition-paying students) at not-powerhouse schools or in non-revenue sports. Even the most "exploited" college athletes still get a much better opportunity than they would in a world without college sports, so it doesn't seem worth the likely harms of cutting off that opportunity to many students to pay revenue-sport players (since paying players would likely lead to the elimination of non-revenue sports at most schools). It seems we'd like to extend the opportunity for free college to as many athletes as possible (increased scholies, per Brian's suggestion) - but paying players will have the opposite effect.

The people really raking in cash from college sports are the TV networks and the bowl games - my suggestion would be that they (contractually, as part of their NCAA deals) set aside part of their profits to a fund, managed by the NCAA, that provides need-based stipends / supplementary scholarships to student athletes and their families.


April 2nd, 2011 at 10:46 AM ^

And the "exploited" (if you accept the argument that they are, I do not) athletes only play two sports out of 27 or so, and further, only play at certain schools out of the 100+ playing major level sports. The actual cohort of "exploited" athletes in any given year is a vanishingly small percentage of the total.

Additionally, there is a strong benefit to the elite athlete in potentially being "exploited" for 3-4 years in football (you can't even make an argument in basketball that they are exploited when they can leave after 1 year)--the visibility of college football itself, because of how big it has become and how widely televised, provides an invaluable platform for the elite athlete to show his talents to the widest possible field of potential employers. 


April 1st, 2011 at 6:51 PM ^

There is a much easier way to do this than what you guys are proposing.

Just get them drafted out of high school, with an agreement with the NCAA that those players can still play in NCAA while being under a contract with an NFL team.

The team pays the player whatever they want(same as a minor league contract). The colleges get them ready for NFL and players can leave after junior year or whatever.

I personally would not go along with this plan if I am a university president. But it is the most sensible way to go in paying the players.


April 1st, 2011 at 7:13 PM ^

While not a terrible idea, the trouble is that you're then paying the college players with NFL revenue - no way the owners or NFLPA go for that, nor should they. The "exploitation" is about what happens to the revenue produced by NCAA competition.


April 1st, 2011 at 7:29 PM ^

As the Bylaw Blog recently (and eloquently) argued, the real issue here is that the top two revenue sports for the NCAA also happen to be the two sports for which there are no viable professional minor league systems.  Thus, NCAA athletics ends up filled with two pools of athletes:  those who wish to compete in sports at a high level while also earning a degree, and those who wouldn't be in school otherwise but must be there to get the coaching they require to achieve their goals of becoming professional athletes.  This second category is the one we're arguing about paying.

It seems to me that Gameboy's suggestion (and others have said this too) is the one that makes the most sense.  If the NFL and NBA are going to use college athletics as their development leagues (okay, technically the NBDA exists but so what), then those leagues should be allowed to draft the players they want while those players are in school, and let those players continue to play in school until such time as the teams that drafted them are ready to call them up.  It seems to work just fine in baseball and hockey; why couldn't it work in basketball and football as well?

Best part is, you don't even necessarily have to pay the athletes while they're at school:  their draft position is already a guarantor of future income (or if nothing else, they can take out insurance against it).  This system would let the future pros be future pros (and that professionality be the responsibility of the professional leagues, not the schools) while side-stepping most of the questions about which athletes get paid how much and whether that's fair.

But of course, the NFL and NBA like having the NCAA provide their free scouting leagues.  If it is decided that it's okay to pay players, these leagues would very much rather it be someone else paying them, and they've got the political clout to make sure that it is someone else - the boosters or the schools themselves - and not the pro owners who have to cough up that cash.


April 1st, 2011 at 8:51 PM ^

because other professional sports have allowed high school athletes to go pro right after high school.  However, NFL is a different animal.  18-20 year old athletes are playing against men and there's a 99% chance of them failing in the NFL right from high school.  It's way faster, more physical and a lot of things to take on mentally.  Star players in high school who are naturally the best athlete won't be the best athlete against NFL players.  He won't see time on the field until they're 21-22 which is a good 3-4 years after graduation.


They're most likely won't be drafted in the first 3 rounds which means that their contract isn't as big as the players who get drafted in the first two rounds.  No sensible NFL teams would touch high school players in the first two rounds of the draft because of the fact that high schooler haven't really develop physically, technically and mentally.  They're better off going to college and hone their body, skills and mentality to succeed in the NFL.


April 1st, 2011 at 6:58 PM ^

The problem is that there are several catagories of athlete in the mix. For the guys that ultimately have any degree of success in the pros, the system works. Yes they might be exploited for a few years, during which time the wide exposure that money brings helps them showcase their talent. They get their payday. I think of it as a poorly paid surgical intern who has to do a lot of scut work but knows that there will be a pay off at the end.

The second catagory is the athlete with no reasonable hope of making money or a career from the sport and recognizes the deal. By doing this sport which (hopefully) I enjoy, the university will pay me back with an educational opportunity. I would put many of the revenue back ups and role players and the non revenue athletes in this catagory. There are many success stories in this group.

The next two groups are more problematic. First is the player that ultimately won't get a pro payday but doesn't realize it or hasn't thought beyond college and either fails to take advantage of the educational aspect of a scholarship or is not equipped to. This is where Whitlock has a good point. Many of these guys are grist for the mill and are not necessarily churned out any better on the other side. The NCAA and the individual schools need to do a better job than "just trying to keep them eligible". Either more rigorous admissions (which would deprive them of the opportunity) or more appropriate and realistic academic programs that they can use when their educational days are over.

The last catagory is probably a subcatagory. The player with pro potential whose payday is derailed by a college injury, like Prothro. If this player has taken advantage of the education, at least he has options. If not, he truly has been exploited.

For many reasons others have pointed out, significant payment to athletes is problematic. Schools with money vs schools without. Revenue sports vs non-revenue sports. Star players vs role players.

I don't have the answers. I do believe the system works for many. The stars who ultimately go pro and the others who are able to use the educational opportunities of their scholarship. In my opinion, there are many however that are failed by the current system.

st barth

April 1st, 2011 at 6:59 PM ^ to being paying athletes.  Nor is it the university's.  

The NFL & NBA really need to create there own development system so that young athletes have some options.  This would take much of the  pressure off of the schools.  If the NHL and MLB can both make a go of it with minor league teams then there's no reason that the more popular NFL & NBA can't find a way to do it successfully too.