Open Mouth, Insert Football: Pay them to play them: Part 3

Ben Morrow
Sports columnist

In my third and final column regarding the debate of college athletes’ pay, I defer to the opinions of a few recognized figures on the national sports level who agree with the concept.

I do this for several reasons. This is not an issue I’m stirring up out of nowhere; I want you to see this is a full-scale dispute already in motion that will not soon go away. The “accepted” position in this argument has generally been for the side of amateurism, not for paying the players. I want to bring valid points from the other side. Some of these sportswriters and coaches have left themselves vulnerable to criticism by standing up for student-athletes; I want you to see how some have stood up for the little man when they didn’t have to take the risk. I may not necessarily agree with everything quoted below, but I believe the arguments are crafted well enough to merit consideration.

Here are the expert opinions:

Jay Bilas, ESPN analyst and lawyer:

“There is no valid argument or data to support the notion that allowing compensation to athletes would compromise the educational mission of the NCAA. The idea that a college athlete should play only for the love of the game is nonsense. If it were true, why give a scholarship at all? A scholarship athlete at UCLA does not love the game any less than an athlete in the Ivy League, and his education is not compromised by cost of attendance. And, it is not compromised by more than that. I believe barriers should be removed that limit an athlete from receiving fair compensation for his or her image and likeness. There is no legitimate reason why a college athlete should be denied the opportunity to enter into legitimate, legally binding contracts to, among other things, hire an agent, do paid appearances, appear in advertisements, endorse shoes and apparel or otherwise profit from their names and likenesses. It would not sink college sports, substantially limit the NCAA’s massive television profits or negatively affect the education of the athletes or any other student. It would simply be fair.”

Michael Wilbon, ESPN analyst:

“I used to argue vehemently against paying college athletes. Tuition, room, board and books we’re compensation enough. So you know what caused me to do a 180 on the issue? That $11 billion deal – OK, it’s $10.8 billion to be exact – between the NCAA and CBS/Turner Sports for March Madness between 2011 and 2024. We’re talking $11 billion for three weekends of television per year. On top of that, there’s a new four-year deal with ESPN that pays the BCS $500 million. Let me declare up front I wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in distributing the funds equitably or even paying every college athlete. I’m interested in seeing the people who produce the revenue share a teeny, tiny slice of it. That’s right, football and men’s basketball players get paid; lacrosse, field hockey, softball, baseball, soccer players get nothing. You know what that’s called? Capitalism. Not everything is equal, not everything is fair. The most distinguished professor at the University of Alabama won’t make $5.9 million in his entire tenure in Tuscaloosa; Nick Saban will make that this year. So I don’t want to hear that it’s ‘unfair’ to pay the quarterback of Alabama more than all the sociology students in the undergraduate college.”

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina football coach:

“As coaches in the SEC, we make all the money — as do universities, television — and we need to get more to our players. We would like to make that happen. Probably won’t, but we’d love to do it.”

Bill Simmons, ESPN columnist:

“The term ‘student athlete’ has become meaningless. ‘Student slave’ might be a better term, because college basketball and football programs are virtual labor camps for the NFL and NBA. When a recent study came out ranking the 10 most profitable sports franchises, sprinkled among such professional juggernauts as the Yankees and the Cowboys were Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. We’re talking about athletic programs that gross upward of $50 to $60 million annually from marketing, sales, alumni contributions, and bowl and playoff appearances. Meanwhile, the average football or basketball player receives … a scholarship. By NCAA rules, players can’t even have a work-study job. These athletes spend 30 to 40 hours a week on their sport (not including road trips) and any schoolwork comes on top of that. What happens if the player is from a poor family? Where does he get money?”

Jason Whitlock, FoxSports.com columnist:

“Because of technological advances, video games, online shopping and the explosion of sports-related TV programming, NCAA schools now collectively derive billions rather than millions from college football and basketball. John Wooden earned around $35,000 a year coaching UCLA. The best coaches today earn $4 million to $5 million a year. Have the benefits to the athletes escalated at the same rate? The system is broken. No one believes in the integrity of the NCAA rulebook. Most fair-minded people don’t believe the athletes are getting a fair shake. Many of them are unprepared to be educated in college, and the demands on their time compromise their ability to catch up or keep pace academically. I don’t see any coaches signing up to be amateurs. If it’s so great, let the coaches sign up to be amateurs, and let them continue their studies and get an additional degree or something while they’re coaching.”

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