Paying College Athletes And What It Could Mean

It isn’t a new idea that college athletes, mainly football and men’s basketball players should be paid. Being the face of a major university comes with a lot of effort and very little in return. Certainly athletes get the fame and an avenue towards professional sports, but as business model, a college athlete gives away their name, skills, and sees none of the millions those things generate. It’s a symbiotic relationship that truly only benefits the university.

Ultimally that’s why LeBron James is paid so much, or why Derek Jeter has played in New York for so long.  While they’re paid for their skills they’re also given a slice of the franchise that has become dependent on their “being”. An athlete’s pay is as much a sign of value to a franchise as an athletes ability to run a fade route.

Big Ten officials discussed a proposal that would pay athletes to help cover living expenses on top of their scholarships during the league’s spring meetings this week.  The idea, which is backed by current NCAA president Mark Emmert and was favored by late NCAA president Myles Brand, is to bridge the gap between what athletic scholarships pay and other expenses like transportation and clothing. That difference has been estimated at between $2,000 to $5,000 per player.

Now before we get into the debate there is one thing to remember before everyone gets bent out of shape: These funds would come directly from TV revenue. They wouldn’t be snatched up out of university funds,  general tuition fees, or tuition increases. Everything in the athletic department is independently. Giving funds to student athletes changes nothing about how the rest of the university would operate. Ok? Ok…

Logistics.

So what does this really mean? According to the Big Ten’s study that would run schools out about $300,000 a year, a number that Jim Delany has admitted could be hard for schools to meet depending on their financials. This right off the bat is the biggest issue that the Big Ten has to face. Making it so a program like Ohio State and Indiana can equally provide for their student athletes. All of the jokes aside about Ohio State’s legal issues, simply put the playing field isn’t remotely equal financially, and won’t ever be unless Indiana goes on a National Championship run of 10 to 15 years.

This however doesn’t mean that an equal playing field is impossible. A conference revenue share program is already in place and could be tweaked to insure that programs would be able to provide the proposed 2,000 to 5,000 dollars per student athlete. The 2009 revenue share was a good example of a possible way that this field can be leveled. Adding Nebraska to these numbers should insure around 4 million dollars more to the Big Ten.

Following the 2009 football season, each Big Ten school received $2.95 million in gate revenue-sharing. Six Big Ten football programs lost significant revenue because of revenue sharing: Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State (each lost $1.05 million), Iowa ($765,000), Wisconsin ($657,341) and Michigan State ($656,075). Schools who gained from gate revenue-sharing that year include: Northwestern ($1.71 million), Indiana (nearly $1.3 million), Minnesota ($896,704), Purdue ($785,650) and Illinois ($539,539).

The Money

Ultimately this sort of program goes beyond “housing costs” or “taking care of student athletes”. Almost everytime in the history of the universe when athletes are given money by a university it ends badly. The whole situation being funny on it’s own. That is the Big Ten looking at the NCAA cracking down on under-the-table transactions and just making it okto do it over the table.

But it wouldn’t stop there. The Big Ten starts paying players? Well the SEC is going to get in on that. It’s hard enough to win a recruiting battle without a conference paying their athletes $5,000 a year. After the SEC the Big East, Big 12, The Pac 10, and so on and so forth. Conferences would suddenly be in an arms race for money just to stay relevant. This doesn’t even take into account Teaxs who is thinking about starting their own TV Network on top of their 120 million+ revenue. The NCAA isn’t ready to tackle paying athletes on a broad scale. Especially since their policy right now is as deep as “That’s proabably just too much of a pain to worry about”

So as major BCS conferences pay the $5,000 dollars, because no school is going to pay their athletes the minimum, (What recruit is going to go to a $3,000 school over a $5,000 one?) then you’ve gone from leveling the playing field to shifting the gap of power even farther. No more Boise State’s making it to a BCS bowl, no more surprise teams. Recruiting is yet again  money game, but now it’s a rule. Like Ohio State fans are fond of saying “Everybody does it”

But some Big Ten officials say if they can help out their athletes, then the concept of using the same rules for all teams should be abandoned. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said the stakes are simply higher for schools like his than for those in the MAC or Sun Belt. “The reality is, if there’s cost of attendance and you can’t afford it, don’t do it,” Smith said. “The teams you’re trying to beat can’t do it either. Don’t do it because Ohio State’s doing it. That’s one of the things schools at that level get trapped into thinking.”

I’m not surprised to see him saying the “everybody is doing it” catchphrase, but he doesn’t prove the point. A paying institution will beat every little school out there. Sure, maybe they’d beat them anyway, but you’ve killed the nature of the sport. At this point Division 1 should be categorized by schools that can pay their athletes. If you can’t keep up you can’t expect to win. Then what has the sport become about?

Ethics

So what about the rest of student body? Sure, basketball and football players bring in the money, but a university doesn’t bring in the funding without some success in the classroom. I myself have worked on research projects that have brought in money for the university but I saw none of it. The success of thousands of students in the classroom is what gives Penn State the credibility it has across the nation. Nobody is hired because of a football program, you’re hired because of the value of a degree, yet the reputation I’ve helped build for Penn State is one that only goes one way. Sure I get a job, but the same thing could be said for a football player that goes to the NFL. Not to mention that most students aren’t in school on a full ride, as you can see from a Wisconsin study it isn’t cheap at all.

So aren’t athletes already getting paid? While there are plenty of student athletes coming from less than stellar backgrounds, your average undergrad isn’t guaranteed a great home to go to either. Give athletes $5,000 for “living” in university issued (free) housing on top of a full ride and you’re looking at a pretty slick deal. Not to mention the sweet gift bags.

But enough about your average student. In a lot of ways my life and Rob Bolden shouldn’t be looked at on a even platform. His name means a lot more than mine does, but there is still a comparision to be made between the value of a “Penn State football player” and “Penn State student”. What about other student athletes? Penn State’s women’s volleyball team is beloved by all of campus has won 4 straight national titles and they won’t get paid. When you start paying athletes you have to look Darcy in the face and tell her it isn’t worth anything.

In the end I sympathize with the plight of a student athlete. It sort of sucks you can get puppeted around for 4 years and see none of the money you’ve generated, but to be blunt, that’s life. It’s important to note that the point of this post wasn’t to jump up and down because Silas Redd might get a few thousand dollars for his efforts. The point was to highlight that it isn’t as simple as having the funds to do it. To pay student athletes is to prioritize athletics in a way that was never intended, and could very well be the demise of the college athletics complex.

That being said, I could use a few bucks.

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Tags: Big Ten Gene Smith Joe Paterno Paying Athletes Penn State Football

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