Should student athletes get paid?
In my previous article I looked at how prevalent academic cheating is for college athletes in revenue-generating sports. The situation stems from pressure applied on student athletes by both coaches and academic counsellors, including subtle endorsement of sport over study and course plans arranged without consulting students’ preferences. The pressure in turn comes from the lucrative business of college football and basketball. Head coaches, assistant coaches and support staff receive the largest share of revenue from college football programs, while students, as amateur players, are not allowed to be paid a salary.
The results are compromising. Students are being shepherded by their coaching staff through college education so they remain eligible to play. Yet, they receive very little of the revenue they generate, the highest proportion of which goes to their coaches. It places student athletes in a particularly vulnerable situation. A recent lawsuit filed by former UCLA championship basketball player, Ed O’Bannon, is claiming compensation for the use of athletes’ images in video games and broadcasts upon graduation. It alleges that the NCAA violated U.S. antitrust law by fixing at zero the price of an athlete’s likeness.
This raises the question of exactly how much revenue college athletes are generating and how much they are being paid (by way of scholarships and other miscellaneous benefits). And furthermore, should they get paid at all?
A study by the National College Players Association and Drexel University found that the fair market value of an average football and basketball player would be $121,048 and $265,027 respectively. Bloomberg reported that college football is a recession-proof business with 9% annualised revenue growth over the decade beginning in 2000.
How is this revenue split? The University of Alabama (UA) has one of the most profitable football programs. BusinessofCollegeSports.com broke down the components of UA’s 2010–2011 football expenses thus:
The total amount spent on scholarships compared with head coach salaries indicates a colossal discrepancy between how much students and coaches receive. To get per player statistics: UA has 143 athletes in its football programs, but the NCAA only allows a maximum of 85 student scholarships. Assuming UA offers 85 scholarships, that comes to about $36,348 on average per year. If we include travel, equipment and medical benefits:
- Travel: $16,263.75 including accommodation and meals
- Equipment: $8,432.88
- Medical: $6,435.04
It comes to a total $67,480, 56% of the average fair market value of college football players. Keep in mind too that UA spends much more on their athletes than the average Div 1 college—their operating expenses per player in 2010 was $41,194 compared with the $21,169 average—so the normal subsidy that players get for their college football career is more likely to be a much smaller percentage.
Where does all the money come from? Endorsements, advertising, university branding, sponsorships and TV/broadcast rights are some of the major sources. College fan consumerism leaves an unforgettable impression on your average Australian university student who doesn’t know anything about University Games.