By Daniel Herrick Sports Editor
It’s no secret that major college sports revolve around money. Cash is king — at least that’s what I learned in basic accounting. And Division I college athletics is no exception to the rule.
Let’s be clear about who we’re addressing before we go any further. When I say major college sports, I’m not talking about Kalamazoo College, a Division III school. I’m mostly referring to Division I football and men’s basketball (with a few exceptions).
According to information compiled from the U.S. Department of Education by businessofcollegesports.com, there were 126 sports programs actually earning money in the 2009–10 school year. This list did not include Connecticut’s or Tennessee’s women’s basketball teams, but other sources show these teams earning a profit. Top on the list: University of Texas football at $68,830,484. 42 teams brought in profits of upwards of $10,000,000.
Just based on the numbers, it’s hard to make a case that these athletes do not deserve some form of compensation.
Their compensation, it could be argued, is their scholarship money and the education that comes with it. But this argument is losing value as many people suggest that a Division I athletic scholarship doesn’t entirely cover the costs of school.
“The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport,” a joint study between the National College Players Association and Drexel University, suggests that the scholarship falls anywhere from $952 to $6,127 short, depending on the school. Clearly a scholarship leaves something to be desired.
Millions of students attend college and a great deal of them get by without an athletic scholarship. But the life of a normal student at the University of Michigan is a lot different than the life of a football or basketball player.
In their respective seasons, athletes spend anywhere from 40–50 hours a week on athletics. This includes practices, games, sessions with trainers, study tables, team meetings and film sessions.
Athletes also travel around the nation, missing classes for their sports. Division I athletics is a full-time job that leaves students with the opportunity and energy to pursue little else.
And athletes do all of this while promoting the school by providing it with a positive image and helping to make it more attractive to students, as well as earning profits for the universities.
College programs sell their athletes to make money. The service provided by athletes is a revenue stream. Programs pack stadiums with people paying to see these athletes perform. Spectators arrive wearing jerseys clearly representing current players — there’s a reason Michigan is selling #16 football jerseys. And fans at home can watch the game due to lucrative television contracts and new networks popping up sporting the name of major conferences. The NCAA recently signed a 14-year $10.8 billion contract with Time Warner, TBS and CBS giving them the right to televise the March Madness Tournament every year. The BCS is looking to sign a new television contract giving someone the ability to cover their new playoff system beginning in 2014. The contract projects to be around 10 years at $5 billion.
Despite their players receiving nothing more than their scholarship, college coaches experience lavish benefits for their labor. The combined salaries of the 15 highest paid college coaches in the 2011 season was $53.4 million. Sports agent Donald Yee sees this as an exploitation: “coaches are looking for financial security on the backs of teenagers,” he wrote in an opinions piece for The Washington Post.
College athletes provide a service very similar to that of professionals. If you compare college earnings with NFL earnings based upon revenues, their is no doubt that college athletes are receiving lower than market value for their services. If you’re interested in a model of how paying college athletes could work, George Dohrmann’s “Pay for Play” in Sports Illustrated defines an interesting, achievable plan. It’s unrealistic that college athletes receive millions for athletics (and they probably shouldn’t). Eventually though, all Division I scholarship athletes may receive some sort of stipend. The question remains: should they?