clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Paying College Athletes: A Solution to the Problems Facing the NCAA

After watching Kentucky's entire starting five enter the NBA Draft, college basketball needs to figure out a way to bring legitimacy to the NCAA.

Getty Images

Tuesday night the announcement was made that Kentucky's entire starting five, comprised of all underclassmen, would be declaring themselves eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft. Even for the average basketball fan, this news did not come as much of a surprise. For many of the top programs, college basketball has become a pit stop on the road to NBA money.

Pundits and analysts have both criticized and praised the decision made by these five young men...A decision that, when all factors are weighed, was not a difficult one.

Most people, when put in the same position, would make a similar choice. There may be a few basketball purists out there, who look at this decision and criticize the "student-athletes" making a mockery of a prestigious university. Those people have little imagination, or little understanding of economics.

Here you have an 18 year old kid, who also is one of the most coveted basketball players on the planet. He is constantly showered with praise from fans, to NBA scouts and coaches who salivate over the thought of drafting him. Everyone, including his coach, encouraging a move to professional basketball. All he has to do is sign a piece of paper and suddenly he is a millionaire. Easy decision right? Of course. Honestly, who would pass on millions to stay in college and classes and free room and board?

College athletics is a billion dollar industry. The NCAA and CBS recently signed a fourteen year, $10.8 billion deal to host the NCAA Tournament. Powerhouse football schools like Texas, generates a profit of nearly $69 million annually just on their football program. The annual revenue of college athletics overall is $10.6 billion. Although the NCAA website tries to justify this number with rhetoric about distribution and fairness, $10.6 billion for a $120,000 scholarship seems a tad off balance.

With so much money floating around, how can the NCAA still try to maintain this amateur façade? How can they continue to exploit athletes who perform their trade in front of a sold out arena? These games broadcasted to a nationally televised audience, with advertisers paying millions for a thirty second spot?

How can we limit student-athletes, who come from underprivileged backgrounds, from resorting to drug distribution, or deals with tattoo parlors, or money from boosters? The solution is student-athletes for their services. This would go a long way in solving some of the issues plaguing college athletics.

Granted, I've heard the arguments. ‘College athletes are paid. They are paid in scholarships. They are able to attain a degree and live the life of a college student without the headache of cost.' Agreed...College athletes are paid, my question however, is the "payment" enough?

In 2007 the NCAA surveyed 10,000 student athletes about their academic goals. 40 percent of those surveyed found being a student-athlete shaped their degrees and academic pursuits. These athletes, because of the demands of collegiate athletics, shifted their field of study in order to accommodate their sport. The average in season athlete spends about five hours a day on athletic related events. Another five hours a day in a full allotment of classes to ensure eligibility. That leaves fourteen hours to eat, study, sleep, and enjoy college.

This time crunch leaves important networking opportunities like internships, which most students use in order to build resumes upon graduation, an impossible task. Not to mention the lack of time for a job which could help an athlete from an underprivileged background, earn some extra money.

In the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Fab Five, five Michigan freshmen saw their shoes and styles exploited for millions, while they continued asking former coaches and boosters for money to eat a meal out. How is this fair? Coaches are being fired and schools sanctioned because someone wanted to give an underprivileged kid a few bucks to take a girl out on a date.

Writer and former professional basketball player Paul Shirley, summed up the mind of a college athlete perfectly in his article for website Flip Collective.

"When I was 18, I left my tiny Kansas hometown to play basketball at Iowa State University. During my college career, I cared so much about basketball that I was willing to put up with screaming coaches, early-morning practices, and the complete absence of any social life. I worried more than most CEOs. I slept less than most workaholics. To combat aches and pains and strains and sprains, I took more drugs than most racehorses.

Why? Only because I wanted to be the best basketball player I could be; only because I wanted to make proud my parents, my coaches, my fellow students.

I, along with thousands of college basketball players then and since, was being exploited. Coaches, television networks, sponsors and administrators: they were using my childish, naïve enthusiasm for sport for their collective gain."

Shirley shares the viewpoint of many student-athletes. At such a young age, it is difficult to truly understand the situation. The love and admiration for the game of basketball is so strong.

Like Shirley, I would have run through a wall for my team. I played an entire season with a torn up knee, purely because I refused to sit out. I didn't want to let my teammates, coaches, and family down. Now I hope modern technology will allow me a chance to play basketball with my children, as my knees are rapidly deteriorating.

According to Ramongi Huma of the National College Players' Association, the average Division 1 football player is worth $121,000 to the university, and the average Division 1 basketball player $265,000. These numbers are just an average. A player like Anthony Davis earned around $2 million for the University of Kentucky this year. Robert Griffin III most likely earned the same for Baylor.

The NCAA awards $1.4 billion in scholarships to all Division I athletes...only 13 percent of the total revenue. Name me another organization in which the most important people make only 13 percent of the total revenue.

The most staggering stats have yet to be read. College football and basketball comprise $6 billion of the $10.6 billion annual revenue for college athletics. The amount given to these players in scholarships, $493 million. The difference in those numbers...$5.5 billion.

This is where it gets tricky. The NCAA distributes that $5.5 billion amongst all Division 1 schools. The NCAA awards around $1.4 billion in scholarships annually, a billion going to programs other than basketball and football. My question is why?

This is how our country became the economic, jobless mess that it currently is. Bailouts for poorly performing companies, paid for by successful ones. Success within your means. It's the difference between Division I and Division II. Mid majors and majors. The Big 10 received $36.7 million during the 2009-2010 season, due to its success on the court. So if money is rationed in an incentive based way among conferences, and divisions, why is this pattern not reciprocated throughout collegiate athletics as a whole? Why should a student athlete who earns the school an average of $2 million, be given the same incentives as a student who costs the school $120,000. Where is the balance?

My solution to this problem would be three fold. First, radically limit, or even take away scholarships for sports which are costing the athletic program money. This will be a wildly unpopular decision. Folks will be claiming Title IX or unfair opportunities, but there needs to be a limit. Look at professional sports for example. There is a reason LeBron James makes more money than Sofiya Velikaya. (She is the best fencer in the world, had to Google it.)

Once there is a limit, the next step would be enhancing the value of a scholarship. The current annual cost of a scholarship is around $30,000, barely enough to cover classes and books. That figure should be in the vicinity of $50,000 for all scholarship athletes. With an extra $20,000 a year, student-athletes could afford a new pair of jeans, or a lunch at Applebees.

Now I know that an extra $20,000 a year does not cover the huge gap between $6 billion and $493 million but it is a start.

The next step for those scholarship athletes would be a fund generated by the NCAA, and distributed in an incentive based way based on performance. This fund would be limited to athletes who graduate from the university after four years of service. Upon graduation athletes would receive a portion of that fund, based primarily on how much profit they earned for their university. The bigger the school, the bigger the amount.

Is this a foolproof plan? Definitely Not! But it is an idea...An idea which could reward these athletes for their time, blood, sweat, and tears. One that could limit the illegal activities and sanctions college athletics are plagued with. And finally, an idea which could limit the blatant exploitation by the NCAA and their conglomerates on some of these student athletes.