Publish Date: 03/04/2018
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Should we pay college athletes? This is an argument that happens all the time, most recently, more loudly. However, the argument and most common talking points is full of so many myths and misunderstandings you would think its President Trump talking trade or CNN talking guns. Here I am to expose the myths and misunderstandings going around whether collegiate athletes should be paid.
The phrase “college athletes” gets used a lot when talking about paying athletes but that’s not what they actually mean. They mean the high-profile programs, men’s basketball and football. And even there, they do not mean every college football team or men’s basketball team should be pay or every athlete. They mean Duke basketball and Alabama football. They care very little about the University of Idaho’s basketball team or Florida Atlantic’s football program. It is about the teams and programs that are talked about in the national media.
This is not a new argument. This argument was used 40 years ago about not giving women sports scholarships. The same arguments used then, that the big programs make the money why should they have to pay the women’s scholarships was the heated debate of the 1960s and 70s. If you don’t remember, that side lost. Title IX makes it law to pay the same amount for men’s and women’s teams. You cannot just pay the big programs, if you pay the men you have to pay the women’s teams.
There are 460,000 student-athletes in the NCAA organization. There are 24 different sports that this covers. Not only does this issue happen in only 2 sports of 24 (.08 percent) it’s only happening at the top echelon of those programs and athletes. These are not the problems at Texas State or Cal Poly. This is a very tiny problem percentage wise. This affects very few programs and players. However, the programs that it does affect are the ones most covered by sports media and the most relevant in Championship competition. If we look at this in a big picture, this is nearly insignificant in the NCAA’s role as governing body and not an issue for most programs. Even with the big programs, it’s a small amount of kids “worth” this treatment.
Stat: average cost of a private college tuition is $34,470. The average cost of out-of-state tuition is $25,620. Athletes on a full ride, like those that play football and basketball are paid this as well as room and board, books and fees. In other words, they are being paid a lot more than a lot of Americans make in a year.
It is regularly put out that these college athletes are living below the poverty line without enough food to eat and not enough opportunities for jobs because of their busy schedule. This is every college student ever. College students are poor, most are paying huge amounts to go to school on top of the school work. College is where all students, athletes and not, learn about financial responsibility. They learn to live on a budget because they have to. Yes, student athletes have a lot more on their plate than the average student. But football and basketball players have a much lighter load than swimmers or track and field athletes who have seasons that are far longer than the other two.
As a former student-athlete myself I know that to play a Division I sport and go to school is hard. Very hard. It takes time management skills, the ability to prioritize and sacrifice to make it work. Basketball and football athletes, if they are on scholarship, are on full rides. In other sports like golf, tennis and swimming most athletes are not given full scholarships but partial and are forced to make up the rest of the payment for their education. They do this every year. They do it through extra jobs, they do it through academic scholarships or they incur student debt. They get their education paid for because it matters to them. They are living in the same world as other students with the same trials and decisions that must be made.
“College Athlete” encompasses 460,000 people, you really think they are all there to play professional sports. I hear there’s a ton of money in professional pole vaulting (said no one ever). Of collegiate athletes 8 out of ten earn bachelor’s degrees and 35 percent of them go on to post graduate degrees. That is way higher than the national average that has just 59 percent of kids that enter college to graduate in six years.
Even if there are kids entering the big money sports that allow them to make money as professionals like basketball, football, hockey and baseball the chances of that happening are statically tiny. In 2017 baseball had the highest probability of being drafted at 9.1 percent. Men’s basketball was 1.1 percent. Football was a little better at 1.5 percent. In other words, even if we break it down by sport the chances of these athletes being drafted are tiny. Making it big? Miniscule. A statistical anomaly.
There are some kids entering college just to play their sport, but they are so far and few between it should be insignificant. But again, they are the players that get all the limelight so we are led to believe they are the norm not the aberration.
From a racial standpoint the amount of minority kids, especially black, given the opportunity at higher education by athletic scholarships is high. This was only a dream for generations before. 24.9 percent of male student athletes are black. That is double the percentages of blacks in the general U.S. population. Male basketball student athletes make up 61 percent while they are 46 percent of the football make up. In a 2012 Pew Research study they found that 14 percent of college age kids were black. Of those, only 9 percent had bachelor degrees. Athletic scholarships are helping kids who wouldn’t have a chance at an education.
This takes us to an important discussion that leads outside of athletics. A large push has occurred on both sides of the political spectrum to better educate our population, does the athletic world really want to cast aside the best opportunity for minorities to get the highest levels of education? Do we really want to be calling access to paid education nothing?
First, the NCAA does not determine when kids can be drafted, the professional organizations do that. Every organization is a little different, the NFL asks for 3 years, the NBA asks for one and baseball allows them to be drafted right out of high school but if they choose to go to college they must stay three years. This has absolutely nothing to do with the NCAA.
As for the second part, slave labor is now what we call development for a profession? Really? I will say I regularly go to my ENT and tell him he should have skipped med school and immediately charged me $150 a visit. Pretty much the doctors board used him as an indentured servant through med school and residency, ripping him off from become wealthier quicker. Oh wait, I do not say that!
Nor do we rant and rave about lawyers being forced to go to law school before they practice law. These people make a lot of money and have much more time where they are “slaves” to their profession than athletes. It is ridiculous to think that because an organization asks for development before entering their professional ranks they are ripping off their employees or potential employees.
The NBA and the NFL have every right and evidence to say that college, even from a purely athletic stand point, better serves their employees and business. When the NBA did allow high schoolers to draft immediately very few succeed, the exceptions of course are LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Yet there are many examples of time to develop working to the advantage of the athlete and the organization, Stephan Curry and Draymond Green.
This is the biggest joke that we have talked about and shows a basic lack of understanding of what athletic departments actually look like financially.
We can start by saying that only men’s basketball and football are even in the running from having “so much money”. They are the only programs in athletic departments with a wealth of ticket sales and television contracts. So obviously the rest of the sports programs make no money and rely on revenue coming outside of their sport like donations and fees. But how about men’s basketball and football. How much are they making?
In football only 20 of 126 teams reported a positive net revenue according to the NCAA’s research. Revenue between 2011-2013 jumped up 8 percent. But costs grew 22.6 percent in the same time.
In NCAA men’s basketball the median income is a LOSS of $811,000. Loss! Most basketball programs are bleeding money the same way the other teams are. In 2013, 3 percent of men’s basketball programs were profitable. 3 percent!
We’re told over and over there is so much money in college sports so where is it? It’s being spent already without adding money to players. Let’s take the NCAA Basketball tournament where the NCAA earns $900 million in revenue. The NCAA takes that money and puts it in an NCAA Basketball Fund where it is then distributed to the conferences based on a 6-year formula. The Conferences then give it to the individual programs.
Most of the money being earned on college athletics is not going to the NCAA, nor the conferences nor the teams to get to the players. The money is going to media companies. In 2014 CBS and its affiliates made $1.13 billion off the NCAA Basketball Tournament alone. $9 billion was made in sports betting the same year (twice the amount of the Super Bowl). Yeah there is a lot of money made off college athletics, but the majority is being made outside the control of the NCAA.
Athletic departments are running deficits, they are not flowing in extra money to pay players. And as we already discussed, who would get the money and how you hand it out has to comply with Title IX does not have an easy answer.
Trying to pay players is a terrible idea. There is not the money in the athletic departments and trying to comply with Title IV would make the whole process complicated and messy. These players are not being used, they are earning an education. There are many perks to being an athlete at a Division I school, but it also comes with its unique challenges. One of the greatest prides in my life was competing at the Division I level. I had a completely different experience than my non-athlete counter parts. But within my own sphere I saw individuals do amazing things. Just as examples from my team, I had a teammate go on to law school where she now practices employment law. I had another recently open her own PR firm and be ranked one of the top 30 under 30 in her state. I have a teammate training to be a captain on a ferry boat and another getting her PhD in History (yeah, she is still in school). There were teachers and councilors and some like myself that are moms raising their children with a college education to their name.
The debate around paying athletes is so flooded in myth and misunderstanding. Before you advocate to blow it all up, look at who it’s really going to affect. It’s not affecting Carmelo Anthony, it’s affecting the teacher in the inner cities who was able to pay for college through their athletic scholarship. It’s the former Division I kicker who is now a police officer in California. Do not blow it all up for the exception, remember the people’s lives and futures really being affected.