Friday, August 26, 2011

To pay or not to pay

To pay or not to pay
By Aaron M. Smith

Student A: This student was no Einstein in high school. He worked hard, however, earning a 3.5 GPA during the course of his high school years. He played basketball, but not very well. He once earned a state science fair award for cloning alfalfa (yet to this day cannot describe how he did it). He was a member of the National Honor Society. He was never arrested and only had one beer while in high school. He went to the principal's office twice in his four years of high school -- once for depancing his friend in gym class and once to receive information on being named Student of the Month (not the same month as the prior incident). He graduated in the top 5 percent of his class. He went to an instate university with $0 scholarship money and a good work ethic. He worked three jobs every year to make ends meet. He earned a degree and graduated with a mountain of debt and a job that paid just $20,000 a year.

Student B: This student came from a poor family. No one in his family had ever gone to college. His dad wasn't around and only sometimes sent checks. His mom wanted him to work at a construction company with his uncle even though he'd rather teach and coach football. His GPA during high school was 2.5. His high school counselor told him college prep wasn't for him; he knew he wouldn't be able to afford college anyway. He played football successfully, but not well enough for colleges to come calling. He once was suspended for drinking beer on school property. He worked during that week off and made enough money to go on spring break. He graduated in the top half of his class. He did not attend college, but earned a decent living working for his uncle in the construction business. He still lives at home and hates his job, wishing he could have gone to college.

Reggie Bush surely struggled to get by at USC.
Student C: This student was remarkable on the football field and on the basketball court. His quarterback rating far surpassed his GPA, which was a lazy 1.5. He probably could have done better, but his teachers (and family) never held him accountable. He passed and got whatever grades would allow him to suit up on Friday nights. He should have been arrested for stealing but the officer that caught him with the six pack used to go to his high school and wanted his team to win on Friday. He got a slap on the wrist. He graduated in the bottom 15 percent of his class (which was a gift from the school) and was recruited to play football at one of the most prestigious private universities in the country. He attended the school despite his very low SAT scores, but started every game as a freshman, leading his team to a conference title and a bowl victory. Over the course of his three years in college (to no one's surprise, he left school as early as he could to play in the NFL) he never paid a cent for tuition, room, or board. He left school with zero debt, a ton of exposure, and a new multimillion dollar contract to play football.

Now, one of those students is suing the NCAA while his handlers are crying foul because he wasn't allowed to earn money as a college student. Never mind the new condo his parents were given by a school booster. This student claimed that he was "like a slave" because he didn't get paid for the work he did while in college. He calls himself a poor college student. He talks of struggling to get by.

Sadly, that student is Student C. And sadly, there are a lot of media members and college athletics groupies who are screaming from their pulpits demanding that college athletes get paid.

I am Student A, and I find that appalling.

Student C received a scholarship that totaled more than $100,000. He "earned" that by not doing any homework. He "earned" that by disrespecting the law. He "earned" that by convincing teachers to let him slide by. Some may call me bitter. Some may call me jealous. That's fine. I really don't care. All I'm saying is that for someone to get free tuition to a stellar university, a free place to live, and free food all the while complaining because he feels like a "slave" or that he "is being used" is utterly ridiculous, not to mention offensive. No you should not be paid; you are already getting free education (which apparently you are not using -- look up slavery and maybe you'll change your tune).

No you should not be paid; you are already getting free tattoos, or $100 handshakes from obsessive boosters, or a different sports car every new season. I drove an old Dodge Neon that broke down often. I had to pick up a third job bagging groceries at Kroger just to make enough money to get it fixed so that I could work at my other two jobs. No, I didn't have to walk uphill both ways to work, but you get the point ... hopefully.

And now I have to listen to Student C complain about how he had to scrape by? Please. Don't waste my time. Some people, like Student B, cannot even afford college. The way tuition is rising, even those who want to go will have to settle for something they do not really want to do. College is a pipe dream for some -- not because they can't hack it, but rather the amount of money it takes to go anymore is unbelievably high. And far too many students who made it to college through hard work are still paying off their college debts 10 years later. College isn't free (for most), so when I hear people calling themselves slaves while shrugging off the six figures they are receiving for going to college, I tend to get a little annoyed.

Now, not all college athletes are like Student C. Many work extremely hard in the classroom and earn their degrees while excelling on the court or field. Those students are admirable and will go on to be successful whether in sports or in something else. But that doesn't change my view on the hot topic of whether or not collegiate athletes should be paid -- because they already are getting paid.

It's called a scholarship.


  1. Good post ... should they be allowed to work other jobs? Should they be allowed to sell their own merchandise or sell their own autographs? Hard to say, but you're dead on with your assessment.

  2. Good points, Mathew. There is a lot to this argument that I didn't begin to touch on. There is the argument that colleges should take on the Olympic model and allow athletes to market themselves to earn money ... i.e. advertisements, endorsements, etc. I don't think I would have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the expectation that schools should pay collegiate athletes in addition to their scholarship. That's just overboard. The benefit these athletes are already receiving -- free education, free housing, free food, television exposure, good PR to professional sports teams -- should be enough. The woe-is-me approach from these athletes needs to stop. Especially after the LSU quarterback was found to have 49 pairs of shoes in his house. I don't think I've owned 49 pairs of shoes in my lifetime.

  3. Wait, you cloned alfalfa? That should be your story . lol

  4. Like I said, Greg, not sure I can tell you any more about how I did it. Something about petioles and agar and being able to plant tons of alfalfa without benefit of good soil in which to plant. Anyway, I'm sure you're bored already :)

  5. Well said. I hear too much about how everybody from the schools to the coaches (which, certainly, are not innocent and should definitely be investigated)should be punished, but leave the poor victim-athletes alone; you know, "the devil made me do it!". We make choices in life; there are consequences for partnering up with the devil.

  6. What about college athletes who don't get multimillion dollar deals to play professinal sports? Didn't think about that did you?

  7. Anonymous, what about the athletes who don't go pro and make millions? What about them? They got four years of higher education for free. If they use that education properly, they will be set for life. The get to leave school with a degree and not a cent of debt. Sounds like a pretty good perk. I'm not going to feel sorry for them.

  8. Aaron,
    You are right that there is much unfair in all of this, but I am still highly troubled by the ability of the purchasers of the labor - the universities - to fix the market price through the NCAA. Is tuition, room and board, etc fair compensation to the student athlete? We don't know, because there is no open market for those services. (There is not even pure free agency, in view of NCAA restrictions on transfers). In view of the money paid to coaches, ADs, universities etc in this system, can you conclude that a Cam Newton is fairly paid by way of a scholarship etc? For Joe Blow, 3 deep on the depth chart, that might be a good deal, but the universities are really price fixing on the top notch game changers so they don't have to share the bounty with those athletes. I agree, that is hardly slavery, but on the other hand name me one other industry in the country that can fix the price of its labor in such a unilateral fashion. Not to mention the disconnect between the huge revenue growth of the universities on the one hand from athletics compared to no growth on the labor cost side (i.e., while nominal dollar increases, they are still based on the same marginal costs of adding an athlete, which costs it is well documented are not increasing as fast as the revenues are increasing). Understand, too, this is not to say that many student athletes do not receive a good bargain via the scholarships, but rather to say that for the top athletes the universities are hiding behind the NCAA to take the "value-added" of the top athletes in the money sports and to pay it to coaches, admins, other athletes. Maybe not slavery, but exploitation that a market would correct if you weren't dealing with a cartel. Respectfully, DKL

  9. Thanks for the comments, DKL ... I understand where you're coming from; there are plenty of questions regarding this topic. I've yet to hear any real solutions, however.

    You asked if a Cam Newton is fairly paid by way of a scholarship. You say that a scholarship is a good deal for Joe Blow, but lead me to believe that a scholarship is not a good deal for Cam Newton. I would disagree. I think it's a great deal for both. But if I agreed with your point, how do you determine how much money players get? Is it stat based? How do you determine the value of an athlete on the field? Is it revenue based? But how do you determine that? Just jersey sales? How do you spread the money from ticket sales, appearances in the public, etc? Where do you even begin to start dividing money up in a way where everyone is getting a fair cut -- from Cam all the way down to Aaron Smith, I mean Joe Blow :)

    I agree with you that there is definitely a disconnect here, that the revenue is increasing at a rate faster than costs of providing scholarships. But until I hear a fair way to divide revenue for payment to athletes, free rides to school are more than enough for now. I don't want to start giving out arbitrary amounts to football players, star athletes, lesser amounts to sub-par players, and less revenue making sports like lacrosse or even cross country. That will be a real mess.

    It'd be nice to have some answers to all the questions.

  10. The only "fair" approach is to let the market decide. If that means Cam Newton receives $3MM per year and the 3rd string RG receives only $3K based on talent and market forces, then that is by (my) definition "fair". Just like any business, the university will figure out what it needs available to pay for facilities, admin, coaching and players and allocate accordingly. The only contrary argument, I think, is the question of what that does to "competitive balance" among the teams. But in reality is there "competitive balance" under the current program between, say, MiamiU/OU on the one hand and OSU/UM/UT etc on the other, save for the occassional "upset"? Furthermore, the current system makes it harder for the mid-majors to break into the gravy train of bowls and TV contracts than it would be if there was open competition for the players (and I don't think that is coincidental). I'm not saying my system would be pretty, but I remain puzzled why everyone looks at the huge TV contracts, coaching contracts, U prez pay packages, etc at the universities without connecting the dots to the fact that those revenue bonanzas are in no small part a direct function and by-product of a cartel that fixes a huge portion of the labor costs. Only in sports is that tolerated and I just don't understand why.

    Probably the same roots that make college stadia seat licenses to be largely deductible as charitable contributions, even though a direct quid pro quo, but that is a topic for another day :-)