Monday, August 15, 2011

8 comments Mike Wilbon May Be 50% Correct, But He's Still 50% Wrong

I follow Jay Bilas on Twitter, like many other people do. As anyone who follows Jay Bilas knows, if you read anything he Tweets about it will either deal with how crazy Bill Raftery is or with the subject of paying college athletes. Jay Bilas is all about paying college athletes. I am all about the paying of athletes in theory, but in practice I'm having difficulty figuring out how it won't create further problems where some schools can afford to pay some athletes more money or some college athletes don't get paid. Mike Wilbon sees these "further problems" and tries to reason through them. I still find holes in his argument that I'm not sure can be fixed, though I am becoming more convinced paying NCAA athletes is the way it will go in the future.

Of course the title of this column is "College athletes deserve to be paid." I feel like "deserve" is the wrong term to use when talking about college athletes getting paid.

I used to argue vehemently against paying college athletes. Tuition, room, board and books were compensation enough. And even if, increasingly, it wasn't enough and virtually every kid who accepted a scholarship was in the red before Christmas of his freshman year,

Every kid who accepts a scholarship or goes to college is in the red before Christmas of his freshman year. This is why I don’t find this argument that some advocates of paying college athletes as persuasive. The argument “college athletes don’t have much money to spend” goes for NEARLY EVERY SINGLE COLLEGE STUDENT, so it isn’t exclusive to the college athletes. Pleading the “we’re so poor” rationale fails in that it isn’t exclusive to just college athletes. Under that rationale, all college students should get paid for the money they bring into the college in the course of being a student.

the notion of pay-for-play was at best a logistical nightmare. Where exactly would the money come from? How could you pay college football players but not baseball players or members of the women's field hockey team? And how in the world would you pay men in a way that wouldn't violate Title IX?

I don’t think we have a solution to this problem. There’s no way to pay “major” sports at a school and not violate Title IX. Even if a women’s sport has players who get paid, I still think it would violate Title IX in some fashion if all women’s sports don’t receive some monetary benefit.

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.

Apparently this was Mike Wilbon’s first realization college sports are big business. Was he just not paying attention over the last two decades? College sports have been big business for quite a few years now and this deal was the straw that broke the camel's back for Mike Wilbon. It seems a little naive to notice these large deals and say, "What a minute, you mean the NCAA is making money off showing athletic events these amateur athletes participate in? If you had told me that, I would have completely changed my mind on the idea of paying these athletes!"

I respect Mike Wilbon a lot, but it seems like he changed his mind because that's what a lot of other sportswriters have done as well. The reasons he uses aren't especially new, but I do guess a person has a right to change their mind.

So, if those two deals were worth, say, a combined $10 billion instead of $11.3 billion, would the games not be televised?

No, that is the market value of the two deals. The games are televised at the fair market value of how much these games are worth. Television deals for BCS games and NCAA Tournament games are worth a lot of money. I would think if the deals were for $2 million per year, wouldn't the same principle of paying athletes for participating stand? If athletes bring money into the school, perhaps they should get paid for it, no matter the amount of money be very large or very small? I'm just throwing this out there. Or is there some threshold for how much the NCAA and schools get paid for television rights before the student-athletes get a share?

What if people in the business of money took $1.3 billion off the top, invested it, sheltered it and made it available to provide a stipend to college athletes, how could anybody stand on principal and argue against paying the people who make the events possible in the first place?

Other than the fact amateur players aren’t supposed to be paid, it seems those who play in the events should be compensated. It does make sense, outside of the fact this isn't supposed to happen. What if part of the money from ESPN’s broadcast rights to women’s softball went to softball players? That’s not a problem is it? Or does women's softball not bring enough money into ESPN to justify the women's softball players get paid?

The problem, as I see it, lies in what happens to women’s and men’s swimming programs, as well as other sports like these? They don’t get money for broadcast rights because their events aren’t televised? The problem as many see it, what about these other programs, especially women's sports, that don’t get compensated? Isn’t this a violation of Title IX?

How about the kids who participate in the Spelling Bee that ABC/ESPN televises? Should they get compensated for the broadcast rights? I’m not trying to be cutesy, but where does this line of thinking about paying participants in broadcasting events end?

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.

There are two obvious problems with this declaration that makes this idea not realistic:

1. Paying certain college athletes and not others will never fly. For reasons, at least in my opinion, which go beyond Title IX. The idea of distributing the wealth for college sports among those who make the money makes a hell of a lot of sense to me on its face. In practice, outside of Title IX, if you are saying NCAA football players need money because they have expenses at school they can’t afford…well, this goes for the men’s swimming team as well. Yes, the football team makes the school money, but paying some college athletes and not others then becomes less of an issue of paying college athletes to help them have a stipend to live on, but more rewarding those who bring in money to the schools. You know, and maybe that's the entire point. I just can’t see the NCAA doing that. That’s what irritates me about some of the pro-paying college athletes crowd. They try to couch it in terms of college athletes being broke, when it is really about which athletes bring in revenue. I’m sort of glad Mike Wilbon skips this nonsense.

2. It won’t fly because of Title IX. Women's sports are going to need to be treated equally with men's sports, unless Title IX is overturned.

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.

It is called capitalism and I do love the idea of capitalism. Even in the United States, where we have capitalism, there is a form of limited capitalism though. We just don’t throw people who don’t make enough money to live on the streets (or don't generally do that). There are benefits available to these people, which essentially is government spending money on people who may not bring that exact amount of money in. So in the realm of this limited capitalism, even those sports that don’t bring some form of money into a school should get some form of compensation.

Not everything is equal, not everything is fair.

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.

I won’t argue that it is unfair. I will argue the idea the quarterback of Alabama has expenses or debts he has to pay while in college, while ignoring that normal sociology students or the 3rd string quarterback have those exact same expenses isn't exactly fair.

Here's another question. We aren’t paying the 3rd string quarterback of Alabama as much, right? He doesn’t even play! Capitalism would say we don’t pay him because he doesn’t bring in any value to the school. Which brings me to the point of whether each individual player would get paid differently on the same team? Mike Wilbon wants capitalism, so let’s go there. The walk-on freshman 3rd string linebacker wouldn’t get paid as much as the starting quarterback, so how do we determine his value? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but paying different players at the same position has a different effect if a coach promotes the 3rd string quarterback to starter at midseason. Would the 3rd string guy get a bump in pay because he is now winning games for his team rather than sitting? Can you imagine if that 3rd string guy starts the next year and the original starter has to sit the bench and take a pay cut? So the original starter is now actually losing money out of his pocket to pay for school expenses because the coach didn’t choose him as starter and he isn't bringing as much money into the school now.

I’m getting a headache thinking of all this and going down so many rabbit holes.

Using the inability to distribute the funds equally as an impediment is an excuse, a rather intellectually lazy one at that. Nothing about the way hundreds of millions of dollars is distributed is equitable or even fair.

And as true as that may be, the amount of funds distributed to individual college athletes is currently distributed equally. Simply because certain conferences get more money based on the BCS, this doesn’t mean individual NCAA college athletes should make inequal amounts of money. I think it is somewhat intellectually lazy to merely state because the BCS doesn’t divide money equally among conferences, then that is a reason for the NCAA to not divide money evenly among college athletes.

At its heart, I have no problem with a non-equitable distribution of funds, but I believe it will be difficult to convince the NCAA this is a viable option in terms of paying players. To act as if this is a viable solution in ignoring the realities of Title IX and the reality the NCAA sees itself, perhaps in a deluded fashion, as an organization that looks out for the student-athletes isn't paying attention to reality.

Of the $174 million distributed from five bowl games, 83.4 percent went to six conferences in 2011. In question right now is whether the BCS even conducts its business dealings in a manner consistent with principles expressed in federal anti-trust laws.

So, the equitable-application excuse for not paying athletes doesn't hold water; at the very least there's a level of hypocrisy here that ought to make the opponents of paying athletes uncomfortable.

Well of course there is hypocrisy. This is the NCAA we are talking about. Hypocrisy is a lot of what they do. I still don’t completely buy the argument the equitable-application argument in regard to the BCS distributing money among schools, it doesn’t hold water for me. Paying conferences for money received in bowl games is very different from paying NCAA athletes, who currently receive $0, a stipend based on how much money they bring into the school. We are talking the BCS v. NCAA and crossing over business dealings for both. They aren’t the same entity.

Wilbon’s argument is, “If the NCAA is going to be hypocrites, why not go all the way” and I don’t know if I buy that. If you argue the NCAA needs to have equitable-application of bowl money (which is an argument that holds water), then inequitable distribution of stipends would no longer make sense under this “hypocrisy theory” of Wilbon’s. So what would Wilbon’s argument be for inequitable distribution of stipends if the BCS changed around their bowl distribution method?

Don't get me wrong, paying players out of individual athletic department budgets is beyond impractical; it's probably not feasible. Because so many athletic departments run at a deficit, it's difficult to make the case that schools should pay regular salaries to athletes, even football players who produce more income than anybody.

So schools shouldn’t pay players, the NCAA should pay players? This seems kind odd to me since the individual player is bringing money and attention, which can lead to more money, to a specific school. I would think if college athletes got paid, then individual colleges should do the paying. What do I know though? I am just a lowly blogger living in his mom's attic.

Why can't hundreds of millions of dollars be directed into those, and in turn make money much more accessible to athletes for the kinds of regular day-to-day expenses regular college students pay by working jobs that are off-limits to intercollegiate athletes?

This argument sort of irritates me as well. Poor intercollegiate athletes! They are too busy playing sports, which is how they got a free ride to college by the way, to work a job. I didn’t know it was impossible for a football player to work a job from January-May while in school. I guess you learn something new every day. I know the players still have some responsibility to their sport in the offseason, but the way Wilbon is phrasing this is as if regular college students are privileged to have the opportunity to work and pay for the expenses he wants the student-athletes to be handed to them.

Somehow a sociology major finds the time to go to school and work to pay for his expenses while in school. He may not be responsible for bringing a bunch of money into the school, but athletes certainly have eligibility for Stafford Loans to pay for their expenses. College students who don’t have time to work pay for their personal expenses with Stafford Loans all the time. Part of me thinks if an athlete wants to pay his living costs, that is what loans are intended for.

In the meantime, if they cannot be paid outright, surely the scholarship athletes should be able to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits that currently leads to costly NCAA investigations that have proven to be mostly a waste of time since, one, such activities historically haven't been checked and, two, the kids who commit the "infractions" aren't effectively punished. Their revelations, short of Heisman Trophy winners having to return their statues, wind up penalizing only the kids and coaches who remain on the team and in the vast majority of cases have done nothing to merit a penalty themselves.

I do agree in part with this statement, but if the program is worth a crap (or the coach doesn't run before sanction are handed, Pete Carroll) then the coaching staff, the Athletic Director and others who were a part of the infraction are getting punished. Yes, an unfortunate side effect is the current players are penalized for doing absolutely nothing wrong in many cases, but when a team has a player de-commit and go to another school because he doesn't want to go to a school that has been sanctioned then the sanctions have done their intended effect. I do get what Wilbon is saying, but you can't punish the school and coach without punishing the players. Unless you fine the the coach/athletic director money or do something in a way not affiliated with the team (Steal their car? Rob their house? Sleep with their significant other?).

If somebody is willing to give A.J. Green $750 or $1,000 or even $2,500 for his Georgia Bulldogs jersey, fine, good. If one of his teammates, a tackle, can fetch only $50 for his jersey, then it'll be a good marketing lesson for both of them.

I do agree with this. The A.J. Green jersey incident was an infraction, just like the infractions where Ohio State players were selling signed memorabilia for tattoos. Still, idiots like Rick Reilly (in his latest column) called this "cheating." How is it that players selling signed memorabilia is cheating? How does the fact Pryor and other Buckeyes sold this stuff negatively affect the Wisconsin Badgers football team? Does Purdue have less of a chance of beating the Buckeyes this year because players paid for tattoos with memorabilia? Yes, this was against the rules. Don't call it "cheating" though, because it really isn't cheating.

The question from the opponents of paying college athletes inevitably comes back, "What would stop a star player from agreeing to shake hands at a local car dealership for $50,000?"

Well, that is completely true. I do think this is completely separate from getting a stipend or getting money from the NCAA for playing sports at a college. If an athlete can make money at a car dealership I don't see how this is too different from another college student using his ability or knowledge to make money. Sure there are differences, like the fact an athlete would make more money probably based on his fame compared to a regular college student, but I would favor this more than I would favor a school paying a player for being a student-athlete in a money-making sport.

In fairness to him, Mike Wilbon brought up this same point in the sentence after this.

The student-musician is no less a college student because he struck a lucrative deal. Neither is the student-journalist who spends his nights writing freelance stories and picking up as much money along the way as he can.

I'm not suggesting players should be able to go whore themselves out to make cash in college, but in my opinion, an athlete getting a free tattoo for signed memorabilia is much more preferable to that same athlete getting a stipend for living expenses because there are costs he can't afford to pay for while in college. Again, this goes for nearly all college students. So if a student-athlete should profit from the money he brings into his school, I would rather he do it in the private market and not because the NCAA is sending him monthly checks. My opinion on this has slowly evolved and it may very well evolve again, but this is how I feel right now.

The best college athletes in the two revenue-producing sports have always been worth much more than tuition, room, board and books.

This may be absolutely true. Many students who get full rides to a college are worth more than tuition, room, board and books when it comes time to donate money back to the school as well. Colleges recruit athletes that will make their school look good. The same goes for students who go to a school as well. College recruit students that will make their school look good. Granted, a full ride business major probably won't bring more revenue into a school than a college football player will.

The best football and basketball players in the Big Ten have produced to the degree that a television network has become the model for every conference in America, a network worth at least tens of millions of dollars to the member institutions. Yet, no player can benefit from that work.

To an extent, I see where this rationale is coming from. The problem, yet again, lies in the idea schools can't pay certain college athletes and not other college athletes. Schools CAN do this, but I would imagine lawsuits would occur. If college athletes want to profit from their ability in a sport, I am not sure I care too much about that, but I would prefer the NCAA and the college not be the one doing the compensating which leads to the profit. I say this simply because I don't see how all college athletes can get paid, so that would mean only certain college athletes get paid. Since (I would estimate) 95% of college athletes are part of a program that either (a) doesn't bring money into the school or (b) the athlete doesn't personally bring money into the school, I can see where the issue would lie.

If athletes want to make money on their own by selling memorabilia or appearing at a Burger King shaking hands and signing autographs, then I very well could have less of a problem with this.

The players have become employees of the universities and conferences as much as students -- employees with no compensation, which not only violates common decency but perhaps even the law.

So Wilbon's final statement is to essentially call student-athletes at the college level "slaves." I wouldn't say an athlete who is getting college completely paid for it as getting no compensation, though it is better to leave out small details that may contradict what you are trying to say when trying to prove a point I guess. This is backwards thinking to say an athlete who gets college completely paid for is an employee of the university while a student who has to pay his way through college, working jobs an athlete isn't fortunate enough to get the ability/time to work, has no ties to the university. A "normal" student has to pay tuition and other expenses for the privilege of being affiliated with the school.

This where part of the "pay college athletes" argument falls apart. So if those players who get a full ride are being exploited, what about those college athletes who don't get an athletic scholarship and have to pay their way through school? These "normal" students are paying to go to school and get the same education an athlete at that school is receiving for free, and then a few years later the alumni association calls these "normal" students up to donate money to the school to support the very programs and scholarships the athlete is using for his free education. So who is really being exploited in this situation?

At least the athlete is being compensated, even in a small way, for the money he brings into the school. Still, I think there is a really good argument for paying players in some fashion for bringing money into a school through participating in athletics. I'm still looking forward to reading it.


Anonymous said...

I still disagree with both you and Wilbon that the star players should be compensated somehow, if only we could figure it out.

My reasoning is that they are compensated... when they get drafted and go to the NFL. So not only are they getting free tuition, room adn board, they're getting "free" training, facilities, and exposure. How much did AJ Green and Reggie Bush get when they were drafted? The were compensated, and all that exposure they received by being on high-provile programs televised weekly paid off for them.

So there's no reason to try figure out the details and how to get aroudn Title IX, etc. It's already there.

Arvind said...

I'm essentially on the same wavelength as you are Ben. I don't see any concievable way that the NCAA or schools can pay athletes and not have it disintegrate because of the logistics. However, athletes, like all students should not be prohibited from making money in the private markets. Obviously, allowing that isn't perfect, as the few schools that have rich athletic departments can funnel resources to 'outsiders' and add further income for their players, and gain recruiting advantages, but its not entirely different than what occurs now, and is far better than the hypocrisy that currently exists with athlete reimbursment.

rich said...

I'm with Anon on this issue. I previously compared college athletics with being an internship and I still contend that. Sure, the athletes struggle for a few years financially and are taken advantage of financially.

Then again, I pay 100 bucks a month for cable service every month thanks in part to Fox and CBS charging a subscription fee that helps pay off that massive tv deal the NFL has. There's also the $100 jerseys, $100 tickets, $20 parking, $8 beers, etc. College takes financial advantage of them while they're student athletes, athletes take advantage of the general public when they're professionals.

There's also no real difference between this and any other major corporation. You think the engineer who designed the iPhone is making any money off that? I doubt it. Probably got a bonus and a plaque and told that's then end of it.

Those same kids are also getting, in addition to what anon said, free travel and the experience that they'll get to share with people for the rest of their lives. The NCAA makes billions off of college basketball, but then puts a lot of that money (after the portion that's stolen) to prop up stupid ass shit like field hockey and badmitton. Again, it's like a normal business, you use your profitable aspects of the company to cover areas that are struggling.

The other thing is that room and board, books, food, etc. is more than most students, even those with scholarships get. I left school with $50k in student loans and I didn't have a potential multi-million dollar deal waiting for me when I graduated, so I don't feel sorry for these kids. Oh no, they have to struggle financially like the rest of us? The horror!

Nevermind that some of these kids should be happy they even were allowed to attend college and eh, tough shit.

The last point I'll make is that college takes financial advantage of everyone. My undergraduate tuition came to $60k every year, tack on $15k for a shitty dorm room plus books and you have something that's probably overpriced. Was the school spending 60k back on me? Hell no, but that's how business works. If you don't like the deal you're getting you leave. No one said these kids had to go to college, they can go to the CFL and now they can also go to the USFL, so again, I find it hard to feel sympathy for these kids.

Along those lines, keep in mind that the school takes a cut from every scholarship/fellowship the government hands out. Where I'm at now, it's 55%. I got a 30k fellowship from NSF; school made 33k+. I helped write a proposal that netted my lab 125k over the next three years, school will take almost 70k of that. The reasoning? The government gives them the money and so they charge "overhead" in order to compensate for the oh so difficult task of writing me a check every month.

Anonymous said...

Agree with rich. Another benefit even for those athletes that don't make the NFL or NBA, they get a huge advantage in the normal work environment.

You don't think the starting linebacker (or even placekicker) is almost guaranteed to get a job interview, but will have a huge advantage in getting hired. And it's often justified, his experience and contacts can give him (and his company) a huge advantage.

koleslaw said...

I agree with what rich said. Colleges deep down only give a shit about their bottom line. The NCAA has luckily provided them in Title IX with a way to avoid having to pay some of their money to the athletes who are making that money for them.

I think the real issue is that the NCAA seems to be going out of their way to make sure the student athletes are completely unable to profit off of their talents until they leave college. I don't disagree that Pryor and the other OSU students should be punished, I just think the rules which they broke shouldn't exist in their current form in the first place.

rich said...

And since it's 2AM and I'm still slaving away, I'll take a break and add a second argument.

If you pay college players under the argument that schools make money off of them, do you also extend that to HS players? My HS charged 10 bucks a ticket to watch a HS football game. During their peak years, tickets ran upwards of 20 bucks. So do the players get some of that money?

Same goes for basketball. I'm sure LeBron's HS made a killing off of having their games on national tv for two years, should their players get any of that money? They're student athletes too, the only difference is that their tuition and room and board are covered by their parents rather than a scholarship.

At the end of the day it comes down to: what is defines an "amateur athlete"? In a very basic sense it's "getting paid" once you are paid, you're a professional, which contradicts what college athletics are all about.

The NCAA has a very weird line it has to straddle. College athletics are insanely popular, but they can't pay the players or else it's just a professional football league, which would, in my opinion, destroy some of the rivalries and traditions. If some kid chooses OSU because of the money, do you think he cares about OSU's traditions? Not really, it'd be like the NFL, but incredibly watered down. Would you have kids holding out of their contract because they outperformed their end of the deal? Would the kids be allowed to hire agents? What happens if the kid gets hurt?

There's just too many practical and moral barriers that would have to be crossed to make paying the players happen.

However, I absolutely agree with koleslaw with regard to the OSU players. I don't understand how selling something that they've earned (i.e. championship rings, autographs, etc.) can be against the rules. I have no problem with the players using their abilities (or fame) to earn money. The reason I'm okay with that is because it's their property (rings, jerseys) or it's just using an ability they already have. This wouldn't be greatly affected by where the players go (i.e. a Pryor autograph would probably net the same tattoo work at LSU as OSU), so it's not upsetting the competitive balance.

It's also not unfair to other players because it's not the star players fault the other guy isn't as good or well known.

Finally, if you do really good work as an undergrad or grad student, people will ask you to do speaking engagements, which you get paid for. It's not common, but I've known 20 year old kids go to schools and give speeches. It's not a ton of money, but it's kind of the same as an autograph.

Like George Carlin said, "How can it be illegal to sell something that's perfectly legal to give away?"

Martin F. said...

I have no problem if schools covered all the "incidentals" such as supplies in scholarships. What kills me is the hypocrisy of the NCAA saying that they can't get any advantages that regular students don't, when regular students are allowed to do all sorts of things an athlete doesn't.

Also, the NCAA really needs to come down heavy on practice/film study/weight room time. Anything involving the team or athletics needs to be cut down. Film study isn't part of "practice" and neither is weight room or other fitness time. That's absurd. Cut down on what the teams and coaches expect these kids to do. Make them students again, and not football players attending the school.

Lastly, players should be able to use/enter the free market like anybody else in terms of selling autographs, making appearances, you name it. Way back in the 90's I think it was Gregg Anthony owned a t-shirt company before he ever entered college. The NCAA didn't allow him to continue to operate it and play ball at the same time. He even offered to play non-scholarship... no dice. The NCAA is insane.

Bengoodfella said...

I hate I missed this discussion in the comments. For the record, I am against student-athletes getting paid, but that's the direction we are going in so I have to accept it or get out of the way. I think the best way to deal with the compensation of athletes is in the private market. It sounds cheesy and very capitalist, but am not sure I have a problem with an athlete making money off his name while at a school in a private venture. It would let the athlete be compensated for his accomplishments while also ensuring the schools aren't paying some athletes and not others.

It does sound very capitalist and I know there is someone who can poke a hole as to why this is not a good move, but I would be interested to hear a real debate about this. Take the idea of paying the athletes away from the NCAA and put it in the hands of the athlete on the private market. It avoids the whole Title IX issue.

Rich, I do completely agree with you about schools taking advantage of regular students as well. That's why I am against a school paying athletes in principle, because it basically says a big "up yours" to those who actually pay to go to the school and don't get a dime off it. These normal students also don't get the recognition and aren't able to have the publicity an athlete is able to get. Even an athlete who doesn't make it in the pros can probably get a job through the alumni of the school because of who he is. In regard to Duke, you are telling me an alumni wouldn't hire an ex-Duke basketball player for his company? Of course he would because the guy has recognition and that would give him a leg up on a normal applicant.

I thought it was stupid for the NCAA to come down on OSU because I don't think the rule should have been in place. I have no issue with the memorabilia being given away for a tattoo. It's funny to joke about, but I don't see how that is cheating or hurts another team in the conference.

Good discussion here and I hate I missed the majority of it. I wouldn't like to see schools pay players a stipend b/c normal students deserve that as well for their living expenses, especially considering most students don't have a full ride. I am not sure I would mind a private venture, like a t-shirt company for a player though.