• Should college athletes be paid, ctd?

    I think the short answer is that some of them should be paid.

    Harold Pollack and I discussed whether college athletes should be paid on bloggingheads last week. Harold’s position is that asking whether paying athletes will harm college sports is the wrong question and I find his argument convincing. Talking with Harold over the past few weeks helped me to realize that I approached the issue as a fan who thinks there are benefits (and costs) that are broadly distributed via college sports, but there are issues of economic justice in play. This lead me to suggest the following for football and men’s basketball, the sports in which questions about economic justice are largest:

    • Scholarships should cover the full cost of attendance
    • All players in these two sports should get a modest “spending money” stipend
    • Star players should receive a share of the money earned from the sale of their likeness and/or jersey

    An analysis in a story by Ryan McGee in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine generally supports my idea, I think. ESPN worked with Jeff Phillips and and Tyler Williams of MIT’s Sloan Entertainment, Media and Sports Club to estimate the fair market salary that 10 University Florida student athletes would receive if they were able to openly and freely shop their talents. A figure adapted from the story that I created is below

    The five football players analyzed would receive an estimated salary of between $1 Million and $3.1 Million* per year; these are star players as these 5 would receive a total of around $9 Million of the $57 Million annual football profit (football teams get 85 scholarships, though there are likely over 100 players counting walk ons). The two men’s basketball players (Boynton and Prather) are also team stars, but their “salary” would be lower based on the much lower profitability of men’s basketball v. football at the University of Florida (basketball gets 12 scholarships). The other three athletic programs lost money.

    Such an analysis would differ from school to school, but the upshot of the story by McGee is that football is the real economic powerhouse in NCAA sports, with men’s basketball being the only other sport that consistently turns a profit at most universities. A system by which all players on teams in the two most profitable sports received some compensation beyond going to school for free with a small number of stars receiving large sums, the amount derived by some sort of market signal, would seem to be a positive change.

    *The estimates were based on the net income of 5 sports programs at University of Florida (football $57.7 M, men’s basketball $1.4M, and losses of between -$1.1-$1.9M for the other three sports). The print article states the full methodology for how they assigned the different salary for the 5 football players, for example, is at ESPN.com/insider but I cannot find it on the free side of a paywall. For the football players LB=line backer; RB = running back; WR= wide receiver; OT= offensive tackle. For the two basketball players G=guard and F=forward.

    update: tweaked a bit of the language.




    • If we were building society from the ground up right now, I’d say, “how about we don’t have pre-professional football and basketball teams affiliated with institutions of higher learning, of all things? Better to root for the Michigan Wolverines Presented by Ford against the Proctor & Gamble Buckeyes.” But I guess that ship has sailed, here in reality.

      The sanctimonious, anachronistic attitudes about “amateur athletics”– the phony outrage when guys make money selling autographs– seems to me to be a big part of the problem, by obscuring the more rational analysis you’re trying to do. That attitude comes from sportswriters, and from the NCAA. It seems to me that denting that culture is the first step here.

    • Stars should also get free multi-million dollar insurance policies against career-ending injuries. This would allow them to get college educations if they wanted, without having injury represent a financial catastrophe.

      Injury risk is also a reason I think the NBA’s requirement to get a year of college is misguided. Derrick Rose’s case is instructive. If he hadn’t (apparently) cheated to get into University of Memphis, what would have happened to him? Instead of playing against the best players in college and getting training from one of the top staffs in the country (plus the possibility for insurance in my favorite scenario), he would have been stuck at some junior college with the very real possibility of his skills degrading due to weak opposition and substandard training, and having to risk career-ending injury for a year with no way to insure against it.

      • @Kenneth Thomas
        stars can get insurance policies now, but I think they must pay for them (I believe through future payments once a contract is signed). The policy of course cannot be free, but I think you mean the Univ should pay the premium? Just last year, Duke star frosh basketball player Kyrie Irving was injured in late November and played in only ~10 games the entire year…he was still the number 1 pick in NBA draft, but the injury could of course have been worse and that not worked out for him.

        • Don, thanks for the info. Yes, I did mean the University should pay the premium, but this payment out of future earnings system is okay, too, and one that could work if a star were stuck at a junior college for a year because of poor test scores. The problem of poor opposition and coaching would remain, of course, but I realize that’s a little off-topic.