September 12, 2011
Whenever the subject of paying "student-athletes" rears its ugly, worn-out head — and that's been pretty frequently this year, in some pretty surprising places — someone always chimes to say, "Wait a second: Student-athletes are paid." Which is partly true: Players do receive an essentially free education worth tens of thousands of dollars via scholarships.
The problem with that argument, according to a new study that crunches the numbers, is that big-time college football and basketball players are actually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to their universities, and sometimes more:
WASHINGTON (AP)—The average fair market value of top-tier college football and men's basketball players is over $100,000 each, and the athletes are entitled to at least a portion of that, a new report from an advocacy group argues.
Instead of getting what they're worth, the players receive athletic scholarships that don't cover the full cost of attending school, leaving many of them living below the poverty line, says the report, "The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport."
A national college athletes' advocacy group and a sports management professor calculate in the report that if college sports shared their revenues the way pro sports do, the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000.
Keep in mind that $121,000 per year is the average: The numbers go up at schools that generate more revenue. A football player at Texas, for example, is worth an estimated $513,000 to the university, the highest for any football program in the nation. (On the basketball side, Duke hoopsters are worth an estimated $1 million apiece.) For a Texas player enrolled in 12 hours per semester on an in-state scholarship, that's roughly 50 times what he's currently getting back in terms of the value of the scholarship. In other words, if Cam Newton's father was only asking $180,000 for his son's services, he was offering up Cam on the cheap.
Also keep in mind that the study is the work of an advocacy group that believes players should be free to pursue commercial deals, and that schools should squirrel away a portion of revenues in an "educational lockbox" that's available to players when they exhaust their eligibility. The group also (dubiously) classifies players at 85 percent of schools in the study as living below the poverty level, citing annual shortfalls ranging from $925 to $6,127 between scholarship values and the actual cost of attendance. It's calling on Congress to address all of this, because university presidents and the NCAA either cannot or will not.
As if to prove their point, an NCAA spokesman reiterated to the Associated Press NCAA president Mark Emmert's position that "paying student-athletes a salary is in no way on the table." Emmert and the cabal of university presidents who joined him on a "retreat" in August to discuss The Big Issues facing college sports did emerge leaning to toward increasing scholarship values to cover the full cost of attendance — that is, to close the $925 to $6,127 gap that currently falls on players' shoulders when it comes to everyday expenses. Some heavy-handed conference commissioners are also on board with that.
But until/unless a few former athletes actually convince Congress to bring the fundamental premise of the NCAA's existence up for debate, after 100 years of not caring less, the gap between a four-figure salve and the six-figure reality remains as wide as the Grand Canyon.