The first argument we hear is that these kids receive full ride scholarships, usually complete with room and board and meal stipends. A package deal that could easily equate to a very handsome salary, there are two ways to consider that these forms of compensation are not adequate. The first is that scholarships are granted to the athletic programs by the academic branch of the school, and not paid for out of the pockets of the academic programs. In fact, for about 90 percent of schools, the school's athletic program can not afford to run itself on it's own revenue. Not that this stops schools from paying athletic directors and coaches huge salaries. The revenues that are generated are made by ESPN, BTN, and other telecast companies that see huge margins on their broadcasts of collegiate football and basketball games. That is the were the money flows to.
To that end, the other argument is how to distribute such payments, and would having a merit based system, in which the more successful schools would pay the greater wages, only further the gap between schools like Texas, who generates lots of revenue, and Houston, who also has a very large enrollment, but garners a fraction of the revenues in it's athletic program. This would create a huge advantage between the 'have' athletic schools and the 'have nots'. I envision a future were instead of 5 or 6 'super conferences' with 10-15 schools in each, there would be at most 2 conferences with 10-12 schools each comprised of the schools that can afford to pay lavish salaries to the best student athletes available. The lines between college and pro football would fade to next to nothing.
So, how can the schools pay their student athletes? The answer is they can't. It is the networks and sponsors of these sporting events that are both making the money and that are dictating when, where, and how often these athletes are playing, they even have contracts that can dictate the students class attendance. This swing that negatively impacts students academic time and general admittance that sports take precedent is reflected when you compare the overall graduation rate of division I college athletes of 79 percent to that of division I football rate of 71 percent, the sport that has the most money flowing through it. In fairness, these numbers have slight improvement in recent years as many schools start enforcing higher academic standards on their athletes.
Back to Northwestern, what happens if this new collegiate union survives the inevitable court appeals and expands their demands to monetary payment? The telecast companies aren't going to pony up much more money for the same product, the expense will be put on the schools who may be put in a situation of paying their kids out of their own pocket with no increase in revenues, and for the vast majority of schools who can't afford that, to begin having less leverage when it comes to negotiating appearances in tournaments and championships, furthering my aforementioned scenario of a limited number of 'elite' athletic schools.
It would take some time to get to this extreme scenario, sure, but who would stand in this futures way? ESPN? Are you kidding me? The would love to have just enough games to fill a fall schedule where every game would have huge talent and huge national audiences, rather then splitting up their production teams to appeal to multiple audiences across multiple regions. The NCAA would become the NFL light. And believe me, Ames, IA can not support an NFL team.
What to do about this conundrum? The answer is simple and yet almost impossible. Colleges need to take back control of their athletes time and priorities and force them to gain value from the free education that they are receiving. A few simple measures to get started.
- Varsity players need a 2.3 or better to play, period
- Students can miss no more then two weeks worth of class a semester to sporting competitions, period
- Stop allowing subsidies to athletic programs out of academic general fund to pay for outragious salaries of coaches.
- Change the way the NCAA organization obtains and disperses it's funds that takes into account academic standards, not just performance.
- Stop expanding, and perhaps even reduce, the number of games and events, made available to the student athlete.
I said these steps are almost impossible to implement, and here is why. It reduces the glory associated with college sports. It asks them to assume the proper role of being second rate to a pro league (which is justified considering a tight BCS title game TV ratings to that of the Super Bowl). College sports aren't profitable despite the lack of pay for it's employees, it's lucrative because they don't. There is a collision course with the profitability of college sports and the demands of athletes time in order to perform well academically. For example, the NCAA wants to add a round of football games to the FBS, that's another week of training, interviewing, and traveling that the 85 students of both teams that advance in the tournament spend away from the classrooms and studying. 15 years ago most teams played 11 regular season football games before bowl selections, now they play 12, plus a conference championship, plus the aforementioned FBS tournament. Another round to the NCAA basketball tournament may be coming soon, with the same outcome almost inevitable. This was done because the athletic/profitable side of the argument won out over the academic/student side.
These arguments leave you with two options in the end; start paying athletes and watch the NCAA dwindle down to a nigh-pro league. Or, do the right thing and start putting the Student back in Student Athlete.
And on a side note GO CYCLONES!!