One of the most amusing follies of the human condition occurs whenever two people look at the exact same thing but arrive at two completely different conclusions.
A common example used to illustrate this phenomenon is looking at a glass of water half-full or half-empty. Both viewpoints are simultaneously correct, so it’s possible for two people to walk away from the same glass holding two opposing beliefs.
This type of disagreement is embedded in our nature, and debates between parties with varying perspectives arise in every field and sector containing human involvement—including athletics.
Sports debates range from the rudimentary “My team is better than your team” on the schoolyard to the multi-faceted “College athletes should be paid” in a sports bar.
Recently, the proposed payment of college athletes has found its way back into the news cycle thanks to the recent release of the NCAA’s audited financial statement for the 2017 fiscal year.
The statement revealed that NCAA revenue surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time in the 108-year history of the league.
That’s a rather large stream of cash inflow for a “non-profit” organization, yet student-athletes never directly receive a dime of that revenue stream.
Many believe it’s only fair to pay the athletes responsible for the astronomical success of a league that provides the adults who run the show with multi-million dollar paychecks, yet others vehemently disagree, citing the scholarships and fringe benefits student-athletes receive as payment enough for their performances.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on the subject, so I certainly won’t take a side in this fray. However, I do enjoy showing off my ability to use Google, so let’s delve into the facts of this argument.
In 2017, the NCAA had approximately $1.05 billion in revenue. After expenses and the $560 million in distributions to schools, the net income for the NCAA was $103 million.
In plain English, this means that any payments made to college athletes would have to come from the $103 million dollar pot. Not quite the $1 billion dollars we started with, but definitely enough money to buy a few new pairs of sneakers.
This is where things start to get messy.
For starters, pricing out paychecks to athletes would be extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible.
Should athletes who play revenue-generating sports receive larger payments than those who don’t? That seems fair on the surface, but laws like Title IX require male and female athletes to be equally compensated, bringing legal issues into play.
What about individual performances? Shouldn’t LSU running back Derrius Guice receive more than the members of the Tigers’ atrocious special teams unit?
That’s also a fair assumption, but I think it would create equality issues among players. It’s tough for me to believe that kicker Connor Culp would be treated the same as Guice if Guice is seen more valuable to the team in terms of a dollar amount.
What about athletic departments that turn a profit? It’s a common misnomer that college athletic departments turn a profit, when in reality only a few programs finish in the black at the end of a fiscal year. Are those schools allowed to pay their athletes more than schools that finish in the red?
If so, I would expect colleges to levy higher fees on students in order to maintain footing in the athletic arms race that would follow. Allowing schools to pay athletes based on what their athletic department makes would also shift focus from the universities with a quality education to the universities that pay more.
That’s highly problematic since we’re talking about student-athletes, not athlete-students.
Many of us will look at these same problems and arrive at different solutions, and we’ll accuse those who don’t share our specific view of being unfair to the athletes.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to reach a fair conclusion on the subject of paying student-athletes. However, I also believe that refusing athletes a slice of a multi-million dollar pie will lead to far more serious problems.
This is evidenced in the latest FBI investigation into universities illegally compensating their basketball players, revealing a dark underbelly of the NCAA that can almost surely be found in sports other than basketball.
Most, including NCAA president Mark Emmert, agree that the league needs “systemic change,” but making any concrete change is easier said than done.
The point I’m trying to make is that before we start calling NCAA administrators heartless or college athletes greedy, it might be best for us to do some research and step into each other’s shoes to gain a little perspective.
Perhaps, that’s the only way any change will occur.