Thursday, June 2, 2011

Big Ten and SEC Toss Around Idea of Paying Players

In the past month, both the Big Ten and the SEC have discussed the idea of paying their football players.  Most recently, University of South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier suggested a $300 per game stipend.  In light of the recent college football player payment buzz, here is a paper I wrote back in English in winter term explaining why paying college athletes won't work.

The debate goes back to the 1980's with the pay-for-play scandal surrounding the Southern Methodist University football team and is more relevant than ever with the scandals surrounding Reggie Bush and Cam Newton today. Should college athletes receive pay for their performance? The thought of paying an athlete may seem logical to many upon first glance considering professional athletes in the United States regularly sign multi-million dollar contracts. Upon further examination; however, it will be found that paying a college athlete for their performance would not work due to many complications. There are a multitude of questions surrounding the debate, with many being directed toward those who believe that college athletes should be paid. How would such a system work? Who would be the ones receiving pay? Just because the current system of disciplining college athletes who accept improper benefits does little justice does not mean the current system can be replaced with a system that would likely lead toward further corruption and commercialization of college athletics. Paying college athletes for their performance will never work financially because of the lack of revenue producing sports and profitable athletic departments, complications with Title IX, it violates the definition of amateur athletics, and athletes are already compensated.

Paying college athletes is impossible because there is a limited number of revenue producing sports for each school and profitable athletic departments. A revenue producing sport at a school is one that sells tickets to their events, relying on more than donations and fundraising. At Drexel University there are only three revenue producing sports: men's basketball, women's basketball, and men's lacrosse (DU Athletics). Although schools may have revenue producing sports, that still does not mean that they are profitable sports. "The NCAA says that about two dozen of its member athletic programs, all of them big-time Division I schools, make a profit, among its more than 1,000 member institutions" (Howard). With almost all college athletic programs losing money and having to rely on donations and gifts, there is no way that college athletes can or should be paid. The two most profitable sports in NCAA Division I athletics are football and men's basketball, mainly because both sports have the largest television broadcasting rights deals. The NCAA recently signed a 14 year $10.8 billion TV, Internet, and wireless rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for the rights to broadcast the NCAA "March Madness" Men's Basketball Tournament (NCAA). The NCAA broadcasting rights deal with CBS and Turner does not even include regular season games, only post-season games! The huge television contracts however are the subject of debate for many, considering the athletes get nothing. Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford goes as far as to compare the athletes receiving nothing to slavery; "It's absolutely evil that only here in the United States do we allow this unscrupulous nineteenth-century arrangement to continue to exist -- and nobody anymore hardly even bothers to bring up this awful injustice" (Deford). Comparing college athletes to slaves is ignorant and insensitive considering college athletes generally receive four year full scholarships. The question still looms however, who benefits from the huge broadcasting rights deals? The answer is everybody. The NCAA receives the money which is then split up between conferences. After the conferences receive the money, it is then split up and given to schools in each respective conference. In the end the schools benefit, but why does that money earned not trickle even further down to the players? It all goes back to schools' athletic departments, the same ones lacking revenue producing and profitable sports. With schools having few revenue producing sports and even fewer earning profit, the money the schools receive is reinvested in the athletics department to fund all of the sports teams. With the lack of revenue producing sports and profitable athletic departments in college athletics, there is no way that college athletes can receive payment for their performance.

Title IX has promoted equality between the male and female genders since it was put into law in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments. Title IX in sports forces schools to have proportional men's and women's athletic teams, opportunities, and benefits based on enrollment (US Dept. of Education). Many times, considering schools admit a similar number of males and females, schools have an equal number of men's and women's sports teams. Drexel University currently has eight NCAA Division I men's sports teams and eight NCAA Division I women's sports teams (DU Athletics). This is exactly where Title IX poses the financial issue for paying college athletes. Considering very few NCAA schools have profitable athletic departments and the two most profitable college sports are both men's sports, there is no way that the women in college athletics will be able to be paid as equally as men. Generally, the people who believe that college athletes should be paid ignore Title IX and say that only the football and basketball athletes should be paid. Realistically, that will never happen. If only the football and men's basketball athletes are paid, then there is a clear violation of Title IX because men's and women's benefits must be proportional to enrollment just like the number of teams and opportunities. Nowhere in Title IX does it state that benefits are proportional to revenue generated. Some men's athletes being paid and zero women's athletes being paid is definitely not proportionate at all. Once the benefits of one gender are out of proportion with the other gender at a school, then that school is out of compliance with Title IX and also out of vital Federal funding. Not only do almost all schools not have enough money in their athletic departments to pay all of their athletes proportionally, they definitely do not have enough money to pay some athletes and deal with a lack of federal funding. The double edged sword that is Title IX poses no possibility for a plausible system to pay men and women college athletes for their performance.

The NCAA, more formally the National Collegiate Athletic Association, is the governing body of almost all college athletics. As part of the NCAA rules, college athletes cannot be paid because it violates the financial clauses of their amateurism status. Under the amateurism section in the NCAA Athletic Eligibility Regulations, the NCAA states that athletes accepting payment or promise of payment in any form for their talent in that sport would make that athlete ineligible to play (NCAA). Once the athletes move from amateur to professional, just about anything could happen. Could you imagine college athletics working under a collective bargaining agreement just like the National Football League or Major League Baseball? It is absurd to think that there would be disputes between the NCAA and a players' union in college athletics. Labor disputes between the NCAA and the hypothetical players' union would severely devalue college athletics. Bill Plaschke, a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times, agrees saying that, "Colleges cannot pay players. To do so would hurt the very athletes supposedly being helped, devaluing intercollegiate sports until they're not worth the paper that a freshman linebacker's contract is printed upon" (Plaschke). Violating the definition of an amateur athlete, thus making the athletes professional, would completely change the make-up of the college athlete and a school's athletic department. College athletes would become marketable items just like any professional athlete, which would lead to commercialization of a single person instead of college athletics. The marketing and commercialization of single athletes instead of athletics as a whole or a single school is something that the NCAA severely frowns upon. Instead of working within the means of the schools' athletic budget, the athletic department would be acting like a professional sport franchise in the sense of wooing athletes with money. Paying college athletes would not work financially because violating the NCAA's definition of amateurism would turn college athletics to professional, creating even more of a financial burden on colleges.

Perhaps the simplest answer on why college athletes should not be paid for financial reasons is that they are already compensated considerably. College athletes are not compensated through the traditional pay check but instead through scholarships. Included in an athlete's scholarship are typically tuition, a meal plan, tuition, and housing. Scholarships for each athlete can prove to be very expensive and some "may reach a value of $200,000 over a four-year period" (Chen and Sturgill). Many schools even go as far to give their student-athletes a small weekly or monthly stipend as further compensation, which is acceptable for living purposes. In addition to a scholarship, colleges give special treatment to their athletes "for example priority scheduling, tutoring assistance, and excused absences" (Chen and Sturgill). With the already rising costs in college educations, how can colleges be expected to give their athletes upwards of $50,000 per year in scholarship money along with payment for performance? It is not financially possible for colleges to pay their athletes for their performance. Colleges are paying their athletes to attend their school and play for their athletic teams through scholarships. Few college students will be making $50,000 per year when they graduate college, so college athletes should be elated that they are even receiving as much compensation as they currently are. It does not make sense for a school to pay their athletes any further for their performance because college athletes are already amply compensated through scholarships, stipends, and special treatment.

The debate about whether to pay college athletes or not has been dominating the sports world for decades now and there seems to be no end in the near future. There are stories each and every year about college athletes who received improper benefits. The solution to the problem of players receiving improper benefits is not to pay them; that would simply be hypocritical. Paying college athletes for their performance would never work due to a multitude of financial reasons. Due to the lack of revenue producing sports at each school and virtually zero profitable college athletic programs, there is no way college athletes can be paid for play. The complications that Title IX presents with paying both men's and women's a proportionate amount or dealing with a lack of Federal funding for being out of compliance are a financial hardship that no school wants to deal with. Paying college athletes would eliminate their amateur status defined by the NCAA making them professional, which would cause a huge financial burden on schools and create chaos beyond belief. Finally, college athletes cannot be paid for their performance because they are already paid through scholarships, stipends, and special treatment. Amateur athletes play for the love of the game. Professional athletes play for the money. Who would play for the love of the game if college athletes are getting paid?

-Written by Kevin Rossi

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