Education must be enough payment for student-athletes for now
Each season, thousands of college athletes shed their proverbial blood, sweat and tears for the universities that they proudly don the uniforms of in return for a college education.
Some of the more successful members of major NCAA sports teams are, in the process, making their institutions thousands, and occasionally millions, of dollars in profits.
However, although they are the ones earning the revenue, NCAA rules mandate that this money must never find its way into student-athlete pockets or bank accounts.
Is a college education enough?
Should these athletes – who sit only feet away from millionaire coaches and administrators who drive Bentleys – be forced to live in virtual poverty, being given only enough to afford housing and food?
Whether the NCAA should be forced to pony up and pay college athletes for their services or continue to lay claim to its non profit status has become a key question of our generation.
The answer may change the landscape of college sports forever.
Filmmaker Spike Lee once famously called the NCAA the “biggest pimps around.” Those such as Lee, who argue in favor of paying college athletes, believe schools are taking advantage of athletes to create revenue with “free labor.”
However, this line of thought creates a pair of interesting questions.
Just how “free” is this labor and how much “revenue” is truly being created?
According to Collegeboard.org, the average annual in-state cost of a college education with room and board is around $17,000, while out-of-state attendees can expect to pay nearly $30,000 per year. Add in the cost of equipment, facilities and other services that the school must provide its athletes and the costs quickly add up.
USA Today’s statistic database on college athletics programs’ revenue, expenses and subsidies provides a quick view into just how much money has to be made by the student athletes so that most athletic programs do not lose money.
First, let me explain the definition of the word “subsidy” that is used in this case.
A subsidy is the total amount of student fees and university funds that are used to support the athletic program. This number does not include ticket sales, contributions, rights/licensing or “other revenue,” which can all be considered money that is made somewhat directly by the athletes.
Of the 10 Sun Belt schools that currently compete as football members, Middle Tennessee led the conference in total athletic revenue with $27,125,185 in 2011. But 67.6 percent that number comes from the school subsidy, which may not be considered to be money made by athletes.
Furthermore, 2011 was the first year in which the program reported a profit in the last five years, and many other Sun Belt schools feel the same pressure to merely break even at the end of the athletic calendar.
Florida Atlantic University was the only other Sun Belt program in 2011 to create more than $1 million in revenue, even with the help of subsidies. Florida International University, Louisiana and North Texas actually all generated losses.
The Sun Belt is a microcosm of the larger problem with paying college athletes and why, to keep all of Division I competitive, non-professional players must remain unpaid.
Certainly, some programs do generate enough revenue to pay their respective athletes.
LSU and Penn State reported over $15 million last year without a single dollar in subsidies. Schools like Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma all received subsidies but, even without them, still would have made around $10 million each.
However, paying only college athletes whose schools generate revenue would destroy the competitive balance of the NCAA.
Other difficult questions would also surface, such as:
Should high-revenue sport players get paid more than lower ones?
If so, how would paying football players more than volleyball players provide the “equivalent opportunities” that Title IX mandates a program must provide?
Should athletes whose programs lose money be forced to pay some of their scholarships back in order to balance the budget?
The only way to pay athletes while keeping the competitive balance of college athletics would most likely be to award all athletes an equal amount, which would require a system of revenue sharing among all programs.
The inclusion of programs who report losses and the sheer number of Division I men’s and women’s athletes would mean the final amount to reach each individual’s hand would be negligible.
More revenue could be sought, but the two sources of subsidies the school and the student populace, may have already run dry.
Schools do not appear to be getting any large increase in funding from state governments any time soon, and shifting money from the academic sector to pay for the athletic program would bring up serious ethical concerns about the true priority of education over athletics in public universities.
Students at MT already pay around $200 a year toward the athletic program. This number is not exceedingly high, considering that all students receive free admission to all Blue Raider regular season home events. This is not the norm at many schools though, which demand student fees as well as requiring that students pay for admission to athletic events.
Some states such as Louisiana actually have legislation in place preventing required student fees from going toward state schools’ athletic programs.
Few with intimate knowledge of college athletics would argue that student athletes deserve more assistance than they are receiving.
Players are not even allowed to pick up part-time jobs according to NCAA rules. Even if they were, how would they have time for these jobs with school, practice and training already filling up their schedules?
These individuals are, as their title suggests, students first and athletes second. Forcing them to become commercial employees who are used to generate enough revenue to simply pay them would put them in unfair situations and could possibly jeopardize educational opportunities.
The issue in college athletics is less whether or not players should be paid, but how could enough money ever be generated to pay them and hold on to the competitive balance that the NCAA only has a somewhat tenuous grasp on already.
Although it may not seem fair, for now student-athletes must continue to take one for the team.