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Should We Pay Our College Athletes?

Mark Emmert is the president of the NCAA. You know that acronym, right? It’s the National Collegiate Athletic Association. THE governing body of college athletics. That bastion of amateurs. Emmert had proposed a rule that would allow schools to pay scholarship athletes a $2,000 a year stipend in addition to scholarships. You know, to buy a pizza, or go on a date, or get a new video game. The money would help these young men and women enjoy some more of the perks that come with an institution of higher learning. When asked if this wasn’t just a pay-for-pay plan he got all testy. This notion of somehow “paying” athletes would be to “convert our student athletes to employees of the university-that would be the death of college athletics.” Over 125 athletic directors and conference commissioners balked and said that the schools couldn’t afford it. The NCAA went back on their proposal. The University of North Carolina is working on a $77 million dollar renovation of their 100,000-plus capacity football stadium. The University of Texas paid their head football coach $5.1 million this season. CBS and Turner Broadcasting paid the NCAA, (not the schools) over $770 million for the television rights to the March Madness Tournament. Did you catch that last one? Three quarters of a BILLION dollars for THREE WEEKS OF BASKETBALL! That’s almost as much in TV rights as the N.B.A. got for last year’s 6 months of play. It washes out to $10.8 BILLION over 14 years. Writing “billion” in all caps only helps to emphasize what a ridiculous amount of money that is. One might argue that a high-performing player in college is going to have a world of opportunity at the professional level and would make up for lost revenue. Not so much. Of the 5,500 or so Division I basketball players who hit the courts for schools last year about 50 of them ended up on an N.B.A. team. The pro teams often pay coaches less than what schools offer. Many people were excited when Rick Pitino decided to go back to the college ranks. Perhaps he needed to work with the kids again? Doubt it. His last year with the Celtics he made $5 million and the Louisville Cardinals are paying him $7.5. The slippery slope is that if you look at a student athlete the wrong way you risk jeopardizing that player’s scholarship and college career. You also put the school and its program at risk. A player cannot accept gifts, money, favors, or any other assistance or preferential treatment based on his membership in an NCAA team. Sort of. Schools fly players all over the country. Coaches and players use their exposure to generate millions in revenue for off-season clinics. Players get tutors and academic assistance. Ohio State’s coach Jim Tressell was fired after it was found that he knew of players exchanging football swag for money and free tattoos. The NCAA let the team complete the 2009-10 season, and then sanctioned the team. Ohio State decided this past fall to forfeit the last few games and Bowl wins of last season, but by that point who cared? The money was already in the bank. Consider the Curious Case of AJ Green. Green was a wide receiver at Georgia. He wanted to go to spring break with his friends, and like many college students, didn’t have enough money. Green had something else, though. He had the actual jersey that he’d worn the year before when he represented Georgia in the Independence Bowl. So he sold it. The NCAA suspended Green for four games for “violating his amateur status.” During the season, during the NCAA investigation, and during Green’s suspension, fans and faithful lined up at the Georgia Bulldog bookstore and at other willing vendors and bought jerseys. Georgia Bulldog jerseys. Many of these jerseys had Green’s name on them. These fans and faithful UGA’s paid almost $40 a whack for this piece of fan-swag. All of this while Green saw not a penny and was penalized for using his ‘personal’ property. The same sort of finger pointing went on about Cam Newton and whether or not he accepted or solicited money from an agent while still a “student-athlete.” While the NCAA went after Cam, he and his teammates hit the gridiron in Auburn red every week. Courtesy of Under Armour. Disco Sports wrote earlier in the season about the fashion statement being made by the University of Maryland Terrapins on the gridiron this season. Let’s put that in context:Terrapin by Under Armour Under Armour paid the Terps $17.5 million for the rights to provide uniforms for the fine young men of the football team. It includes a little over $2 million per year in actual product. “We will pay you almost $5 million dollars per year to let us give you $2 million in products.” Since it doesn’t seem to make sense we’ll lay it out: if you look at this photo you can count 9 Under Armour logos and that doesn’t count a headband, wristband, sideline gear, or the back of the uniform. Do you think that anyone makes any scratch of off that? How many of you got gaming systems for Christmas? EA Sports sold almost 3 million copies of their NCAA Football game in 2011. Did people buy it because of the “NCAA” logo? No. They bought it because of the teams and players represented. Heck, we make some money selling college football gear. There’s nothing wrong with someone making a buck off a successful franchise or someone’s allegiance to a school. But why not give some of that back to the players? If you gave college hoopsters some loot for what they do, how many of the 5,450 players who didn’t end up in the N.B.A. would end up using it to actually go to school? How much money would they spend on graduate programs or to perhaps start a business upon graduation? Now THAT’S a stimulus package for the Iowa Caucuses. The SEC recently became the first conference to pass the BILLION-dollar mark in annual revenue. This may sound socialist, but as sports fans we think that this wealth should be spread around. As capitalists in a free-market economy, we say give some back to the employees who earned it.
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