Tuesday, June 7, 2011

10 comments I'm Just Not Sure About Paying College Athletes

I have always wavered on whether college athletes should be paid or given a stipend of some sort or not to partially offset the fact many of these college athletes make a ton of money for the schools they attend. I'm not sure when I will come to an eventual conclusion about this. I always go back and forth and I believe if a good proposal were ever put out there, I could get behind paying college athletes. Gene Wojciechowski seems to think Jim Delany's proposal to pay Big 10 athletes a stipend is a good idea. I'm not sure I like his reasoning for thinking it is a good idea.

Dylan and I talked about this on a podcast a few weeks ago. I probably should come to a definitive conclusion on this issue so I can talk about it in a confident voice when asked. Because in the era of "First Take" it is not possible to talk about a sports-related topic and not have a definite position on that topic, so I must be way behind the times.

In the immortal word of Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers: "Really?"

Nine people laughed at this, eight people wanted to punch something imagining the smug look on Seth Meyers' face when saying this, and Bill Simmons just Re-Tweeted something Seth Meyers said to him in an effort to remind us that he KNOWS Seth Meyers.

Think about it: A college athletics power broker recently proposed an idea that actually helps the Division I scholarship players responsible for generating billions of dollars in revenue.

It is crazy. The problem is the proposed idea only helps some of the Division-I scholarship players responsible for generating billions of dollars in revenue. It helps players in the Big 10. It basically tells mid-majors schools, "it's not our fault you don't have the money to do this." So this plan helps only a certain number of Division-I scholarship players.

But by the time the skeptics and cynics were done mangling the facts beyond recognition, the proposal needed reconstructive facial surgery.

Unfortunately, one man's fact is another man's opinion. Also, simply because something is a fact doesn't mean it is irrefutable.

The power broker -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany -- suggested a plan that would bridge the growing financial gap between the value of a scholarship and the actual sticker price of going to school.

What about the growing financial gap between the value of an academic scholarship and the actual sticker price of going to school? I guess those people, and that is the majority of people who attend college, are just fucked. Pay back those loans you have to take out people, you can't play sports well enough and don't bring the school enough money to deserve to not have to take loans out to cover living expenses.

What about the financial gap between major conferences and mid-major conferences? Can mid-major conferences afford to bridge the gap in tuition and the value of a scholarship? Shouldn't we care about these athletes' cost of tuition as well?

That average estimated annual gap of about $3,000 would be given to the D-I player to help defray the costs of, say, transportation, clothing, laundry and pepperoni pizzas. It works out to a whopping $8.22 a day.

That's $8.22 PER ATHLETE per day. Not total, but per athlete. So when you multiply this by 3,000 athletes it turns out to be quite a few dollars.

Hey Gene, can you give me $1 million dollars over the next 30 years? It is only $91.32 per day!

Instead of getting a standing ovation for trying to improve the rust-coated system now in place, Delany was accused of grandstanding, of creating a play-for-pay scenario,

I don't know if I agree with Delany's idea, but it doesn't mean I think it is a play-for-pay scenario or anything of the like. I just may disagree with his point of view on this.

"I never used the words, 'play-for-pay,"' says Delany. "I never used the word, 'compensation.' All I said is, 'Can we have a discussion? We'd like to have a discussion about providing a grant-in-aid that corresponds to the cost of education.'

I will already confess the idea of the student-athlete is a joke at times. Many student-athletes are students in that they have to go to school in order to keep playing their school of choice. Many student-athletes are also going to class and getting an education though.

The hardest part for me to justify in not paying players a stipend is how much money these players do bring into the school for that school. It is a ton of money, so that does differentiate them from "normal" college students, but when it comes to the cost of education at a school this is a cost ALL college students share. It is not just relevant only to student-athletes or a cost only placed upon the college athlete, but nearly every college student has to find a way to pay for school. So in that way, the idea a college athlete should receive a stipend of some sort to offset the costs of school seems like they are getting a benefit for bringing more money into the school. Which is true of course.

So the part of me that can't justify paying players a stipend is the part that doesn't like simply because a college athlete brings money into the school means he/she should receive a regular college student does not receive to defer the cost of education at that school. Why should the backup quarterback get $3000 when a guy/girl who has a 4.0 and is trying to go to law school after graduation has to make due in taking out loans or taking a job to help pay for school and living expenses? Part of me thinks a stipend, though fully knowing a college athlete brings money into the school, isn't fair to the rest of the students who are trying to pay for college.

Why should a college athlete receive $3000 to defer the cost of an education that he probably isn't even attending the college to receive? Let's be fair, we aren't talking about volleyball players or baseball players who should get paid, it is the sports that bring in a ton of money to the school, like football and basketball. Many of these guys have their eyes on professional sports, so they aren't necessarily in school to receive the education, but to play their sport of choice. Why should I care they struggle to pay for living expenses (remember the stipend is for living expenses, which aren't exclusive expenses to student-athletes) when every college student either has to take out loans or has to struggle themselves to pay for living expenses? Perhaps, because they bring in a ton of money to the schools...which is a valid point. So there are valid points on both sides of the argument.

In its simplest terms, Delany's proposal is a cost-of-living adjustment for D-I scholarship athletes.

This is a cost of living adjustment nearly every college student needs. Herein lies the issue. While many times the idea of a student-athlete is an illusion, thousands of college student-athletes don't go play professionally. So essentially the stipend would be money given to an athlete (in addition to a scholarship) simply because that person is an athlete and not because that athlete brings money into the school.

It would make college life a little bit easier and, given the revenue the players generate for their universities, a little fairer.

Not all college athletes and sports generate revenue. So wherein it may make sense to offset (in some way possible) the revenue a player may bring in by providing a stipend to that player, it may not make sense to provide a stipend to a men's lacrosse player when that sport may not generate revenue to the school. I don't hate Delany's idea, but the way Gene Wojciechowski is running with it as if there are no issues with the idea is a bit incorrect.

The stipend idea isn't fair to the college student-athletes that do make income for the school because even the student-athletes that don't play a sport which brings money into the school would receive the stipend. The stipend idea isn't exactly fair to regular college students because they need the cost of tuition to be defrayed as well. So if a men's lacrosse player isn't playing a sport that is bringing money into the school, why should he receive a stipend while an Accounting major doesn't get the money, yet has the same cost of tuition?

But nobody is going to buy a yacht with the additional money.

That's not the point. This sounds like the excuse a person who is stealing money from his job would use to justify the crime.

In the late 1960s, when Delany played point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina, players nationwide received what amounted to laundry money each week. Now, some players have difficulty making the end of their grant-in-aids meet the end of the month. Their scholarships don't cover the true cost of attending college.

Again, the same is true for many college students.

It feels circular, but the difference in some college student-athletes from normal college students is they make money for the school. So giving these students this stipend may make sense. But then you can't just give money only to the sports that make money because that isn't fair, so the stipend has to go to all Division-I college student-athletes, even those that aren't making money for the school. This puts them in the same boat as normal college students who face the exact same costs of attending college, the only difference being the student-athlete plays a sport, but otherwise has the same effect on revenue as a normal college student does. Which leads us back to the beginning where it is wondered how to help out student-athletes who bring in a ton of revenue to the school.

My favorite anxiety-filled response from those who instantly opposed the idea: Providing scholarship athletes with a "cost of education" increase would give such conferences as the Big Ten a recruiting advantage.

What a crazy criticism of this proposal!

Delany's response: They're right, it would.

Or not. So Gene's favorite response to the proposal is an accurate criticism of the proposal?

After all, it only makes sense that a recruit might be more tempted to sign with a conference whose institutions can afford to put that $8.22 in his or her pocket each day.

If it isn't that much money then why provide the money to them? Oh wait, because it is a lot of money for a student-athlete to have provided to them or else Gene wouldn't be advocating this proposal. Gene can't bash the $3,000 proposal as not giving the student-athlete enough money, so it is harmless, while also advocating the $3,000 as a fix to the problem for the cost of tuition. If it helps the student-athlete enough for the change to be made, it is probably enough money to tempt a recruit.

The Big Ten, the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12, the Pac-10, the ACC and the Big East already enjoy recruiting advantages over other conferences. Their stadiums, arenas and practice facilities are larger and more luxurious. Their geographic footprints are wider. Their TV contracts are more lucrative. Their coaches' salaries are higher. Their tradition, Q ratings and alumni bases are more pronounced.

So why not widen the gap between majors and mid-major conferences? Is that the reasoning Gene is going for here?

Even before Delany's proposal was made public, the country's best high school recruits were choosing the major conferences. That isn't going to change. The only difference is that this time something extra is being done to help the scholarship athlete.

There is some truth in this statement. Though I don't know if this truth is enough justification to just say "fuck it" and give the major conferences an even larger advantage when it comes to attracting recruits.

So if Big Ten athletic departments have the financial assets to pay for a cost-of-education increase for those 3,000 scholarships (in that conference's case, an estimated $9 million or so more a year), then I'm all for it.

$9 million dollars isn't that much money! It is only $24,657 per day! That's what you generally find in your couch cushions while cleaning.

Not because it's good for the Big Ten or the other conferences that can afford it (such as the SEC, etc.), but because it's good for the athletes in the Big Ten and for the athletes in those other wealthy conferences.

It is good for the athletes in the Big Ten conference. Merely saying something is good for athletes in certain conferences isn't entirely great justification for doing that "something." It would be good for athletes in the wealthy conferences if they had a tutor that took all of their exams for them or didn't have to take exams, so they could focus completely on sports. It doesn't mean it is the best decision to be made.

"And somebody would say, 'You know, we can't do it, so you can't do it,"' says Delany. "So I'm saying, 'If we can do it and it's not above the cost of education, why shouldn't we be able to do it? It's a welfare issue.

Cost of education is a welfare issue, but it is also a welfare issue that non-athletes face as well. It is not like the normal college student has a full ride to school and is easily able to pay all of his/her bills every single month. $3,000 would come in handy for them as well. This would come in handy for regular college students as well, but they aren't eligible because they are not athletes. The solution presented isn't a solution to fix a welfare issue for college students, it is a way of compensating college student-athletes who make money for the school disguised as a welfare issue. If it were truly a welfare issue every student that faces the cost of education problem would benefit and receive the $3,000.

This isn't about level playing fields, because there is no such thing in Division I athletics. If there was, every athletic department would be able to do what Notre Dame did and cut Charlie Weis a $6.6 million, please-go-away payment, or build a 109,000-seat stadium like the one at Michigan.

I'm not sure this is entirely relevant to the point. Every school has a different sports budget. I believe this is different from schools in certain conferences being able to offer student-athletes a stipend of money for merely attending their college. The stipend of $3,000 is a specific tangible benefit an athlete receives for attending a college in a certain conference, which I think is separate from a student-athlete choosing a college based on the size of the stadium.

Instead, it should be about the scholarship athletes who helped transform March Madness into a billion-dollar TV contract for the NCAA, or the BCS into a national title monopoly, or bowl season into the most wonderful time of the year.

These are two sports that bring money in. What about the other scholarship athletes who don't transform the month of March and aren't on television? Why should they get a stipend for playing a sport that doesn't provide significant revenue to the school?

It should be about the nonrevenue sports athletes who play for the love of the game.

So the nonrevenue sports athletes that play for the love of the game should get money to pay for the cost of attendance at a college, while nonrevenue students of the college don't deserve any help, while attending college for the love of getting a good job and making something of themselves with an education? Why is playing for the love of the game and not generating revenue deserve special financial consideration compared to a person who wants to get an education at that same school?

Therein lies my problem with this proposal, not my problem (because I am not sure I have one) overall with paying college athletes in some manner. You can pay those athletes who make money for the school, but once you start paying nonrevenue athletes, you are essentially paying Student A money to offset the tuition cost for playing a sport while Student B, who faces the same cost of tuition, is screwed over simply because he/she did not play a sport. Say Student A has a full ride to college for men's tennis and Student B has a full ride on a Science scholarship. Neither students provides revenue to the school, but Student A chooses to play a sport so that student gets his/her cost of attendance supplemented with a $3,000 stipend, while Student B has to take out loans or find another way to pay for pizza, laundry, and beer.

There are some positive things in this proposal, it may be getting near to the right idea, but the execution seems off.

For Delany's proposal to go from the cocoon stage to actual legislative reality would require approval from NCAA membership. And a lot of luck.

"It's unlikely that this could ever get passed," Delany says.

I think we are a long way from having any sort of money or payment given to players who participate in a sport that is revenue-generating for the school. I'm not necessarily against players being paid when they play a sport that generates revenue for a school, but I don't think a stipend being paid to student-athletes to offset the cost of education that affects every college student is the way to go. Maybe the worst case result of this proposal is it starts a conversation or helps develop a better idea.


rich said...

As an graduate student, all the fuss about paying players rubs me the wrong way. I run 5 labs, two recitations and grade, resulting in roughly 70 hours of work a week. I then have to do research on top of that. My net pay: 4.50 an hour.

You know what though? I knew what I signed up for. So did these kids. They don't have to go to college, but they choose to.

Do they make money for the school? Absolutely. However, I have over 200 students in my classes paying roughly 4k a class. That's $800,000 in just tuition generated by my students in my class. I get paid a whopping 5k a quarter. So I bring in 80 times more revenue than I cost. I don't hear anyone demanding graduate students getting paid more.

Also, all of my research? School name goes on everything I do. I get paid 0 fucking dollars for it.

That average estimated annual gap of about $3,000 would be given to the D-I player to help defray the costs of, say, transportation, clothing, laundry and pepperoni pizzas. It works out to a whopping $8.22 a day.

I call fucking bullshit on this. They get a food stipend (or at the very least a meal plan) with their scholarship. They also get meals comped on the road. There are also provisions for housing as well. Transportation? Fuck that. Take the bus or walk like the rest of us.

We'd like to have a discussion about providing a grant-in-aid that corresponds to the cost of education.'

Hey Delaney, there is no "cost of education" for these players because you cover their tuition under their scholarships. You want to give them spending money, just because you didn't call it "compensation" doesn't change the fact that you want to compensate the players.

The hardest part for me to justify in not paying players a stipend is how much money these players do bring into the school for that school.

I get where you're coming from, but these players are getting a sweet deal. Free education, housing, meal plans, tutors, training staff, equipment rooms and coaches. All free for them.

This brings me to the most important aspect: the name factor. If you go to OSU and play well, you end up in the NFL. Just like every other college student does with their internships that they typically aren't paid for. During my undergrad, I worked three internships, one unpaid, one for 7 an hour and the other was about 15 an hour. The companies I worked for benefited financially, I got my 7 bucks an hour. It's the way it works.

If they think they're getting a raw deal, they can go play in the UFL or the CFL and make a paycheck, but they continue to go to college because it's easier to get into the NFL from USC than from the Toronto Argonauts.

rich said...

To elaborate more (because it's totally necessary), every internship on the planet is a raw deal in terms of the financial benefit to the intern.

I worked at JPMorgan, worked with people do the same people doing the same work as me, but made a fraction what they did.

However, I got to put "JPMorgan" on my resume which in turn led to job offers (before coming back to school).

In the same way, NCAA players are trading pay for the chance to make a shitton of money in the future. Again, if there were no benefit to being an NCAA football player, the CFL wouldn't be unwatchable. The fact is that these "student-athletes" are interning. They get a modest pay (tuition, room and board, etc.) in exchange for being able to put went to: XYZ on their "resume" for the NFL draft, making it easier for them to make a gazillion dollars playing a game.

Arjun Chandrasekhar said...

it's debatable whether we should pay athletes for sports themselves. on one hand, the amount of revenue that they bring in is disproportionately higher than what the scholarship compensates them for. however I think you make a really good point that every other student has to struggle to meet living expenses AND they have to pay for tuition, room, board etc. on top of that unlike other students. Title IX also complicates the issue.

however what is not debatable is that it's bullshit that the NCAA can market specific players and sell their intellectual property in the form of putting their names on merchandise, video games, etc. and the specific players being marketed don't see a dime of that profit. It is complete, total, utter bullshit that when someone buys AJ Green's jersey he is the ONLY one who doesn't receive a cut of the profit from a good that only has value because of HIS labor. This would be like if i developed some new drug, only caltech took the patent away from me and sold the drug on the market without giving me a cut of the profits. Obviously football and therapeutic drugs are two very different things, but the principle is the same: when the NCAA markets individual players for profit, and takes advantage of those players' intellectual property (and by intellectual property i mean their production on the field, which, let's be honest is what adds value to the product; i don't buy a sam bradford jersey because it says oklahoma or because it says NCAA or anything - i buy it because it says Sam Bradford on it) by marketing their names, and then not giving any profits to the one person whose labor is what goes into making the product valuable. I really hope the O'Bannons win their case, because I cannot stand seeing the NCAA take advantage of players like this and not compensate players for the right to market their names on merchandise.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, interesting reasoning looking at college football as an internship. Not sure I have looked at it this way or not before.

One of my biggest issues with paying student/athletes is it spits in the face of other college students who do work to further themselves and don't pay a dime. In fact, they have to pay for the opportunity to do so. The college athletes don't have to pay to get their name in the public eye, it happens with their success. In fact, they get the opportunity to be in the spotlight for free.

It is true there are meals comped and if the student/athletes need more money to live on, it is available to them if they choose to take out loans. But of course they are too good for student loans so they should be given more free money. These are my old arguments for not paying college athletes and I still tend to lean that way.

Still, the university makes a ton of money off them...but as you said that's what happens to others as well. Of course, you are just a grad student so no one gives a shit about you being used by the college.

I will say I don't like how replica jerseys of athletes are sold, just without the name on the back. The internship is an interesting way of looking at it, I would be interested to see what the counterargument to that would be.

Bengoodfella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bengoodfella said...

Arjun, at the heart of it paying for a student's cost of attendance and paying for living expenses is something all college students have to deal with. So I don't know if paying the student-athletes for this specific cost they incur is fair. Every college student goes through having to pay for things they need.

I bring in more money at my job than my salary compensates me for, just like Peyton Manning brings in more money for the Colts than he gets compensated for. So I understand how the scholarship doesn't compensate the player enough for what he does, but it is that way in every facet of work life.

As I said (for some reason your comment went to spam so that's why I didn't comment on what you said before now), I don't like how the replica jerseys with the player's number on the back gets sold and the college can make money off the jersey and the licensing of that player's appearance. That does strike me as a bit unfair. The replica jersey, and even the video game, issue does strike me as a bit unfair.

Murray said...

Damn man Rich is pissed.

Bengoodfella said...

Murray, I think he brings up a valid argument with the internship thing. I think he's pissed he works hard and brings in money to his school, but he is expected to pay his own living expenses.

Rich said...

BGF, you're kind of on the right track.

I'm just tired of hearing 18-19 year old kids complain about not having "enough" money to do what they want while in college. I'm sorry, you're in college, you're not supposed to have the most luxurious life imaginable.

I spent 4 years busting my ass to get through my undergrad, worked for a year have been in grad school for 2 years. All counted, I'm down roughly 240k for this experience.

As an engineer, I don't really do "easy" stuff. On top of that, I have to teach, run labs, grade, proctor, etc. Like I said earlier, I make about 4.50 an hour for my work and that factors in the "free tuition" that I get (for classes I don't take).

So basically, to hell with 18,19 year old kids who think that they deserve to drive a Hummer instead of taking the bus because they play football. I'm sorry, but advanced physics is much more difficult to do and you don't see the Physics majors driving around with nice cars.

Do football players bring in a ton of money? Sure, but they also get more money back from the school than anyone on campus.

Now, the NCAA profiting on their likeness is a lot of horseshit and makes me feel sick inside, but if you pay players in college, what's to stop some high schools from paying players? My HS sold tickets to HS football games for almost 20 bucks a pop. Add in merchandise and I was in the same position as most NCAA players.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, part of the problem is just the aspect of everyone is getting paid except for the athletes. The athletic directors don't want to seem like they are exploiting them and the players want to get paid. So they don't give a shit about normal students at the school because those students don't have an advocate. In an era when many states are cutting grants and other Financial Aid for students, colleges are thinking about increasing the amount of money paid to athletes. Think about that. Your money to get an education will be cut, but their money to have a stipend to live on is being increased. It's just the way things work. At some point athletes will get paid and leave college with minimal loans while you toiled away and end up with back-breaking debt because you dared to try and get an education.

I could go on and on. People don't see normal college students as being exploited and they don't seem to care too much about tuition costs. Mostly, the idea you would need money to live off is completely ignored.

I do think the biggest problem is memorabilia sales and things like that. Making money off the student's likeness on a video game rubs me the wrong way.