By James Summerlin, Sports Editor
The NCAA has seen a fair share of scandals in recent years. Teams, players and coaches have been accused of paying for play, from Jim Tressel to Cam Newton to Reggie Bush. This has raised an issue of if, and how, student-athletes should be compensated for their play.
College athletics has become a money-making business, especially in football and basketball. The television deals are just one facet of the money that is made. The current BCS television contract, owned by ESPN and running from 2011–13, was bought for $125 million a year. The March Madness television rights, worth $10.8 billion dollars, are owned by CBS/Turner Sports and run from 2011–24. In August this year, the University of Texas created its own channel through ESPN called the Longhorn Network to give another outlet for revenue through athletics.
The money that is involved in ticket sales, merchandise sales and television rights adds up to millions of dollars for many NCAA Division I schools. Dave Hart, the University of Tennessee’s athletic director, called college athletics a “business” to the Associated Press when talking about the SEC’s decision to bring Texas A&M into its conference.
“I know sometimes people are offended by the term ‘business,’” Hart said. “But there is a business aspect to intercollegiate athletics that you have to be cognizant of and be ready to position yourself as well as you possibly can.”
The NCAA has a way to compensate its players without making them employees. Athletic scholarships allow student-athletes to go to school for free. Free education is considered payment. Anything more than scholarship is in violation of the NCAA rules. Gary Williams, Union’s NCAA compliance officer, said there is nothing to be gained from giving students any more compensation than the scholarships currently provide.
“I cannot see how it would be beneficial for us to pay student-athletes,” Williams said. “It just opens up a can of worms of abuse and malpractice. We have seen all kinds of corruption and scandal, especially at the Division I level.”
The students are not considered employees by the courts. The court case that illustrates this is in the Waldrep v. Texas Employers Insurance Association where a Texas Christian University player was paralyzed in a football game in 1971 against Alabama and tried to file for workman’s compensation. The player was denied because he did not qualify as an employee.
These types of legal problems and questions of fairness are blocking the door for athlete- compensation reform. The other side of the argument has pointed out the problems of the “full ride” scholarship and the “market value” of a college athlete tilts the playing field in such a way that harms the player.
Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association and former UCLA football player, and Dr. Ellen Staurowsky, sport management professor at Drexel University, conducted a study called “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport.”
The study showed that college athletes found a “full ride” did not cover all costs. The average full scholarship left student-athletes paying $3,222 for out-of-pocket expenses. The study also calculated the market values of college basketball and football players. The male basketball player averaged a $265,027 market value, while the football player was valued at $121,048 for the school.
The University of Florida received the highest revenue in football and basketball in the study, but Universiy of Florida student-athletes on average lived $2,250 under the poverty line.
Williams said student-athletes should still be aware of what they are there to do and of these compliance rules before entering this type of athletic and financial environment.
“A student-athlete knows the ground rules when he comes,” Williams said. “His (or her) primary role as a student-athlete is to get a good education. The scholarships they receive to play any given sport allow them to get that education, most often for free. While there is a cost in practice time and dedication, he (or she) is aware of that commitment in sports.”
Reform would be ideal, but there is no easy solution that would be free of legal issues and abuse of the payment system. The NCAA has not addressed this issue in terms of a rule change or a stricter enforcement of rules.
The issue will remain in media discussions and in NCAA front offices as long as pay-for-play scandals continue