Open Mouth, Insert Football: Pay them to play them: Part 1

Ben Morrow
Sports columnist

Should a college athlete be compensated for performance? This question opens up a can of worms like no other and has proven to evoke emotional arguments from both sides.

The NCAA holds that amateur athletics is the impeachable standard and it enforces this view firmly if not fairly. While proponents of amateurism have accepted it as the status quo in the NCAA, advocates fail to object to the tens of millions of dollars some universities receive every year through their men’s basketball and football programs. They ignore the hundreds of coaches who make a rich living commanding the broke college athletes who put butts in the seats. They fail to explain how NCAA officials, mostly made up of college presidents and athletic directors, rake in buckets of dollars every year on the backs of free labor.

Amateurism, it is argued, only applies to the workers who create the product.

The response to this argument is that college athletes are compensated by tuition-free scholarships and free boarding, perks each student would love to have. It doesn’t matter that most athletes can’t get a job on the side to earn spending money. After all, how do you put a price on a degree? How do you place a dollar value on a student-athlete?

A recent report has done just that. “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport” was written in a joint effort by the Drexel University Department of Sports Management and the National College Players Association. It’s a damning document for the NCAA, detailing the amount of dollars the top football and basketball programs bring in each year versus the standard of living the same athletes endure.

The National College Players Association’s website, www.ncpanow.org, explains the report’s findings and methodology.

“Examining football and basketball teams from Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) colleges, the study calculates athletes’ out-of-pocket educational related expenses associated with a ‘full’ scholarship, compares the room and board portion of players’ scholarships to the federal poverty line and coaches’ and athletic administrators’ salaries and uses NFL and NBA collective bargaining agreements to estimate the fair market value of FBS football and basketball players. The study highlights college presidents’ admission of their inability to reform college sports and calls for federal intervention to help bring forth a new model of amateurism in college sports that emphasizes education, minimizes violations and allows players to seek commercial opportunities.”

The report, which can be found in its entirety on the website, offers the following results as highlights:

1. “The average scholarship shortfall (out-of-pocket expenses) for each ‘full’ scholarship athlete was approximately $3,222 per player during the 2010-11 school year.”

2. “The room and board provisions in a full scholarship leave 85 percent of players living on campus and 86 percent of players living off campus living below the federal poverty line.”

3. “The fair market value of the average FBS football and basketball player was $120,048 and $265,027, respectively.”

4. “University of Texas football players’ fair market value was $513,922 but they lived $778 below the federal poverty line and had a $3,624 scholarship shortfall.”

5. “Duke basketball players were valued at $1,025,656 while living just $732 above the poverty line and a scholarship shortfall of $1,995.”

6. “The University of Florida had the highest combined football and basketball revenues while its football and basketball players’ scholarships left them living $2,250 below the federal poverty line and with a $3,190 scholarship shortfall.”

You read that correctly. The average Duke men’s basketball player is worth more than $1 million annually, based on the TV contracts and endorsements the team brings into the university each year, yet its average player pays $2,700 out of pocket each year.

The University of Florida brought in the most revenue through its men’s basketball and football programs last year at nearly $79 million, while its average athlete lived at $2,250 below the poverty line. The average salary between the men’s basketball and football coach at Florida was more than $4 million.

So if this disparity exists for the large moneymaking universities, where does this leave smaller schools like Murray State? In my next column, I’ll bring this a little closer to home and look at where alma mater stands.

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