A long, vomity cover story appeared within Time’s September 16, 2013, issue. It suggested that we take the most spoiled and privileged athletes on any collegiate campus, who almost never have to pay for a dollar of their education, and pay them on top of tuition, books, and room and board, to the tune of about $225,000 a year.
The author (Sean Gregory) writes that an “uncomfortable question has surfaced.” The problem, as he sees it, is that there is this game called football and it’s very, very popular. So popular, in fact, that people pay to watch it, even when it’s only a couple of college teams playing. So popular, that the crowds are large enough to support businesses that rely on the crowd’s support and addiction to this game. The university prizes the football players and they are rewarded for it in the form of full-ride scholarships, which, in turn, give them a great college education for free. For free, that’s worth writing one more time. The average college student graduates with $26,600 in financial debt. The problem here is not the debt of the vast majority of college students, but that college teams aren’t paying their football players a salary of $225,000 a year.
The notion throughout the article is that these football and basketball players are 21st century slaves and since they perform for a mass audience they should be rewarded. High school football players in Texas perform for mass audiences, some much bigger than collegiate football crowds. Should we pay them too? Gregory never answers that question, but of course we shouldn’t pay them. They are volunteering to play sports. And, in college, they are volunteering again, although this time they get the perk of having a free education worth more than $100,000 these days.
Gregory quotes several professors in his article. One of them being Roger Noll, “a noted sports economist from Stanford University.” Noll is quoted as saying, “The rising dollar value of the exploitation of athletes…is obscene, is out of control.” Even if I believed this was an accurate statement, I wouldn’t think paying the student in addition to their scholarship would be the solution. How about dialing back the football madness? As the popularity of the NFL has grown, the importance of collegiate football has also risen, putting a bigger and brighter spotlight on major collegiate teams and their star players. If we are looking to exploit them further, then, by all means, pay them a salary. Let the endorsement battles begin. I am sure this will only emphasize the importance of the college education they are already getting for free.
What especially kills me about all of this talk is that the players complaining to Time that their likeness is being used by the NCAA to sell jerseys, video games, etc. are often the players who are going to sign professional contracts after graduating. Meaning, they’ll soon be making millions in a year or over the span of their career. These are not needy people; they are some of the most-spoiled people on collegiate campuses who devalue their education to the extent that they feel they have seen zero dollars in compensation.
One of the biggest, erroneous claims in this article is that these players spend forty hours a week on their sports. This just is not true. In fact, it is illegal for players to formally spend this much time on their sports. Countable hours cannot exceed 20 a week. True, athletes are free to go home and study football plays and video, if that is all they want to do. One player complained in the article that he was spending more time on sports than academics. Well, that’s really his choice, but has anyone done some on-campus research or some Googling? If they had, they would realize that the vast majority of college students playing NCAA D-I football would prefer to spend more time on sports than on academics. Paying them will make this equation even more lopsided.
Look, these players aren’t victims, like this article suggests. They are cogs in a very profitable machine and they are being paid as such. Full-ride scholarship? Check. Books? Oh those are free. Your portion of the rent check? Don’t worry, the living stipend is in the mail. Line at the bar long? Let me usher you to the front. Drinks are sort of pricey tonight? This round’s on the house. Get a good sack in today’s game? Oh, here’s $300. (Read Sports Illustrated’s article about playing football at Oklahoma State University.) You have an 8am class? Coach will be up to usher you there in the morning. You have to go to study tables (where student-athletes are required to study on the clock, that is, if they are dumb and can’t sustain above a 3.0) but you really want to stay at the apartment and play Grand Theft Auto V. Don’t worry, when you walk in and sign in I’ll look away so I don’t see you walk out and then later I’ll sign you out so you get the hours. (This happens everywhere.) Shoes are looking worn? Come on in, I’ll hook you up with a new pair.
Here’s a favorite passage from the article:
And don’t imagine for a moment that universities harvest their athletes’ celebrity for only four years. After a truly memorable championship season, veterans are brought back to campus on a regular basis for reunions and tributes, sometimes for decades. The work never ends.
The work never ends? What the hell? I didn’t know voluntarily coming back to campus, having travel costs covered, wining and dining with the AD and the president of the university, and getting a standing ovation at halftime was work. Shit. Sign me up.