While West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby support compensation for college athletes, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson still does not.
In an interview for the September issue of Texas Monthly, Patterson reiterated sentiments he shared with the Sports Business Journal in June that few college athletes would exceed the value of their scholarship.
“We have allowed ourselves to be trapped,” Patterson told Texas Monthly. “All of us, the NCAA, colleges, coaches, and athletics directors. We have done a very poor job of talking about what college athletics really is all about for the 99.5 percent of student-athletes who will never play professional sports. We have allowed ourselves to have a discussion about that half percent.” He points out that athletes who make it to the pros have an average playing career of only four years. “They have a half century ahead of them after they are done playing.”
Much of the NCAA's argument throughout the O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial was that compensation of athletes would turn college sports into a minor league of sorts. And since minor leagues aren't as popular as college sports on the United States sports landscape, the NCAA believed the product would be devalued.
Patterson said he didn't see college football players as minor leaguers.
Patterson’s argument begins with his conviction that both the scholarship and the college degree are enormous benefits to student-athletes, many of whom would not have gone to college otherwise. “I don’t think college athletes are the equivalent of minor-league football players,” he says. “They are students who wouldn’t get into the university but for the athletics and wouldn’t stay in the university but for the sports. If you look at them as a group, approximately eighty percent of them are the first in their families to go to college. In American colleges in general that group has about a fifteen percent graduation rate. With athletes, the rate jumps to between seventy-five and eighty percent. That is because of the resources the university puts toward helping them.” At the University of Texas, the tuition, room, board, books, fees, and other support in a scholarship are worth an average of $65,000 a year. “That is more than the average household income in the United States,” he says. “I don’t see how they are being shorted.”
But what about athletes like Vince Young and Johnny Manziel, who create huge benefits and revenues for their universities, from fund-raising to ticket sales to sponsorships and licensing? Shouldn’t they at least be allowed to monetize their famous names? “No,” he says categorically. “I am not saying they did not benefit the university. But you have to understand that both parties benefit. The university is largely creating the value. The athletes are trading on the value the universities have created. No corporations are going to be lining up to pay them money out of high school. They also get a huge benefit on the college stage by having such assets as strength coaches, nutritionists, psychological support, tutors, mentors, media training. All of that costs money. It is too easy for those in the sports press to say, ‘You are manipulating and using these kids. You are giving them nothing.’ We are not giving them nothing.”
While he's correct in saying that both athletes and schools benefit from the relationship, it's tenuous to suggest that the athletes are the ones benefitting the most. Especially when it's suggested by the head of the richest athletic department in the country.
Just look at Patterson's comment regarding the academic standards that apply to athletes. By having different standards for athletes than normal students, Texas is tacitly admitting that it can get better athletes by having lower standards. If the university's athletic department could be as strong as possible without having different standards and potentially worse players, it would. However, it doesn't. A university's athletic department's strength based on reputation can only go so far. (Texas should know.)
Yes, the athletes that Texas brings in get to experience all of the benefits of being a student at Texas. However, under the current system and potentially new system, an athlete on a full football scholarship receives the same benefits no matter if he's first or fourth string. While for the school, the first-string athlete has much more value to the university than the fourth-string athlete does.
Patterson realizes this. He has to. If the college football ecosystem didn't exist, all of the scouts sent to scour universities for NFL prospects would be deployed on the high school level. And while football may not be the best example of the typical athlete-university relationship, it's the most prominent one. It's the sport that props up many schools' athletic budgets and helps create the value that Patterson references. If the players Texas football puts on the field struggle for a couple more years, the value of Texas will correspond.
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