Social Security, Medicare, Freedom of Speech, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We ARE entitled to all of these, are we not? I mean, come on now, there is no such thing as a free lunch. So why is it that we all have such varied opinions of what a "scholarship" should consist of in college? And how does signing your name and playing sports equate to being the same thing?
Doug Gottlieb has an interesting piece over at CBSSPORTS.com about what the sports world is now calling "pay-for-play". I cannot bring myself to agree with all of his points, but he does make some interesting arguments.
I am not going to delve into the political aspects of this issue in any way except for the historical connotations. Franklin D. Roosevelt brought the country Social Security, in an effort to try and bring some stabilization to the increasing population in the country that was reaching their golden years and had no safety net to fall back on due to the fall of the markets back in the 20's and the miserably slow economic recovery that the nation experienced afterward. At the time, he was vilified by his political enemies for causing the downfall of the nation. My grandparents, and my parents disagree, but that's not the point I am trying to make here. What I am pointing out is that since that day, the country seems to feel like they are "owed" something just for being here. Has that made it's way into the NCAA and college sports?
Has the NCAA, in trying to keep it's definition of "amateur" as the status quo, gone out and made their own problem worse? Have they, by preventing student-athletes to sell autographs, pictures, do commercials, endorse products, and basically earn money off their celebrity status and not just their athletic abilities made themselves the scapegoats here? And why would the NCAA want rules that kept their student-athletes from making their own money as long as they don't do it playing their sport? There is a huge difference between being one of the next 20 contestants on Big Brother, and going out and playing sandlot football on Sunday afternoons for $500 a game. Yet, if a college player does either one, he is penalized because the NCAA claims that being on TV is the same thing as suiting up to play.
The sense of entitlement today in the country does worry me. More and more we see that it permeates our lives. In the case of college athletics, however, this seems to be an example of the boy who cried wolf. If a college kid can go out on a Saturday afternoon and earn himself 250K without taking anything away from the school he attends and plays for, how does the NCAA justify the rules forbidding it? When McDonald's gives The University of Kentucky the check for allowing them to produce a calendar with their players pictures in it every year in three or four sports and doesn't consult the student-athlete, should the student-athletes have the right to complain?
Consider this. Let's just look for a moment at the landscape of college athletics if there were no scholarship players. Let's say for a moment that the entire country goes Ivy League. We will eliminate a relatively small portion of college students in a hurry. For purposes of simplicity, I am only going to use Division I or the FBS Division as it is now called.
340 schools. 13 basketball players per school on scholarship. 85 football players on scholarship. 27 baseball players on scholarship. And lest we forget the ladies, 15 for basketball, 12 for gymnastics, 12 for volleyball, 12, for softball. All in all there are potentially 467 scholarship athletes at a Div I school in all sports, give or take a few. That's roughly 159,000 kids going to college every year due to collegiate sports. Let's play Devil's advocate for a minute and say that 40% of those kids are going to go to college, athletic scholarship or not. That means that approximately 95,000 kids would not go to school each year if they could not go for free on an athletic scholarship.
As of 2007, 18.2M students attended college per year, and the number was growing rapidly then, so I am going to make the assumption that as of 2013 there will be 19M students in college. That means that college enrollment would lose only 0.05% of it's students. That is a relatively small loss. So why do colleges around the country and even the world put up with this madness of trying to satisfy all these regulations and requirements? The two highest paid employees at most Division I schools are the football coach and the men's basketball coach. Sometimes they are the highest paid employees in the state government system. Or at least they were until Jim Calhoun folded his tent at Connecticut. Get rid of athletics and you also get rid of huge salaries.
Are you shocked? Well, you shouldn't be. There is tons of statistical data to back this up, so I am not reaching even one millimeter here for these numbers. Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Well, here it comes. In the 2012-13 season, the NCAA had revenues of almost 800M that it shared with it's member institutions. Over 95% of that went to those 340 Div I schools. That's just the NCAA TV contract money folks. Then you can tack on tickets, other TV and Radio and Internet revenue, licensing rights, etc.
Here is another startling statistic. In most states, the state government (that's us, by the way) also subsidizes colleges and college sports. That's right, they get tax money. Care to hazard a guess how much money is donated to colleges in the name of athletics? Last year a total of $31B was donated to schools in the United States. How much of that was because of athletics? The numbers support that almost half that money came from persons or foundations, or alumni directly related to the athletic department.
Are you beginning to see why everyone with five fingers is standing in line with their hand out? And yet schools claim to be going broke. And some actually may be. Schools are actually having to subsidize their own athletic departments to keep them up and running, however, they cannot afford not to. Kentucky is one of the few schools that funds it's athletic department without government or school help. And with the coming changes to Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium on the forefront of everyone's minds, people will know that the assistance there from the government will be paltry in comparison to what a lot of schools get without any renovations in their facilities.
For demonstration purposes, let's say that a college student on full scholarship costs the University of your choice 50K a year. If you use the revenue-sharing method of accounting when calculating what an FBS scholarship athlete is worth to the school, the numbers are staggering. Tony Manfred, a writer with Business Insider magazine used that very method of calculation. His numbers give the average FBS basketball player a value of $289,031 per year, using the salary methods that the NFL and NBA contracts now use. Football players? Only $137,357. Your mileage may vary here when looking down at the numbers, as most schools' athletic teams would not hold the same value as an NFL franchise, or even an NBA one. However, you try and put a dollar value of either the Kentucky basketball program, or say the Alabama football program. In 2009 Forbes Magazine valued Alabama football at $92M. The University of Texas' football program in 2009 was valued at $119M. (in 2009 Kentucky basketball was valued by Forbes at $24.9M)
Thoughts of entitlement turning now? Well, here's some more figures for you. Would you like to have Tim Tebow's autograph? If you have $160, it's yours. Did he become that big a commodity in the pros? No. He can't even hold down a job in the NFL. Would Tim Tebow have been smart to start charging that much for his autograph in college? From a rules standpoint, no. But from a financial standpoint? At one of his first post-college autograph signings, 1500 people (the limit for the event where it was held) showed up and paid just that. 1000 of those also paid $75 for a photograph with Tebow. That's over $300K he made in a six hour event. What if Tebow had gotten hurt in college? Would those numbers still have been there? Doubtful. So, was Johnny Football really being smart? Or dumb?
Would any of you reading this piece fault a college player with wanting the revenue that they can generate for themselves NOT PLAYING THEIR SPORT, while still in school? I cannot in good conscience sit here writing this piece and tell you that I can stand in front of Johnny Manziel and tell him that the rules are right in demanding that he not make any money from his image.
Now, reality tells us that not all kids are Tim Tebow or Manziel. And a huge portion of the college athletes never will be. Schools are NEVER going to pay college athletes for their services. I can recognize and agree with that concept. Matter of fact, not only do I agree with it, I support it wholeheartedly. What I cannot support are the limitations that the NCAA has placed on the student's ability to earn money doing anything related to their sport in the name of amateurism.
Does being able to sign your name have anything to do with throwing a football? No. One is completely independent of the other. The DEMAND of wanting someone's signature is what the NCAA is trying to regulate. That is 100% UNAMERICAN. We hold the policy of capitalism as a fundamental truth in this country. Should a professional football player be able to compete as a college football player? No. But would a professional plumber be able to play college football? Sure thing buddy, sign here.
When I was a teenager, a huge deal was made out of the fact that Brooke Shields was going to college at Princeton. While a student, Shields was allowed to make movies, go on TV, and do pretty much anything she wanted as long as she went to class, actually took her courses herself, and passed her exams. The school had no dog in that hunt. Matter of fact, the school got quite a bit of free publicity from the TV and newspaper people who were keeping tabs on Shields' days in college. By the way, Shields took some theatre related classes at Princeton. They didn't care that she was a pro.
Is it fair that Johnny Manziel and his teenage body are going to be paid millions because he has some very savvy people around him who have paved the way for his earning capacity, while I, one of the smartest people in the room (well OK, im MY room), can barely break the 30K mark a year sometimes? No, it's not. If I want to change it, however, I have the right. My government gave me that right over 200 years ago. Why did they allow the NCAA to take it away from Manziel?
So, now the question becomes, "What is REALLY the issue here?" Are we talking about the money, or are we talking about amateurism? Has the NCAA been so headstrong about the concept of the "student-athlete" that they have lost sight of what that student-athlete is really doing? Here is another point to ponder. What does hiring an agent do for a student-athlete? Why is the benchmark of hiring an agent used to determine whether or not a kid is a pro? What good is the agent going to do the kid if he can't earn a living, and why does that matter as to what his status is?
Try this on for size. A great college QB comes to Kentucky. He breaks practically every record in sight. He is adored by the fans all over the country, not just at Kentucky. He leads UK to the SEC Championship game and throws 6 TD passes, in a victory that puts UK in the NCAA Championship Bowl Game. He then does the impossible and wins that. He is then drafted by an NFL team and begins to negotiate his contract. Before he can play a down, the stock market crashes and the country goes into another Great Depression. NFL franchises fail all over the place including the team that drafted our greatest QB ever. Instead of being a multimillionaire with money to burn, he is now jobless. He has nothing to show from his lifetime of over 20 years practicing and playing the game, doing weight room workouts, handling every task he was presented with. What does he now have? A whole lot of cocktail hour stories and hopefully a few pictures to remind him of what he could have had if the NCAA had not prevented him from earning money on his own when he was a college student. He was prevented from earning money which he should have in his pockets.
See, there is a huge disparity between what might happen and what the NCAA believes would happen. We have all been taught all our lives that money equates with being professional and not amateur. The problem with that is that no one understood that there was going to be all this opportunity out there for a young man to capitalize on his image. Celebrity is it's own living now. This is the real issue here. It's not about if the kid can go play for a pro team when he is not playing college ball. It's about whether or not this same kid can walk into a hotel room surrounded by fans and ask them to pony up $150 for him to use a pen. It's about the fact that the NCAA has no idea how they can get their cut of all that money and still call the kid an amateur by their own definition. It can't be played both ways. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the school make the kid, or did the kid make the school? And if the school did make the kid, does the kid have the right to go out and earn because of it?
In trying to prevent someone from earning a dollar the wrong way, the NCAA has prevented them from earning anything the right way. By the NCAA definition, no one who gets a college scholarship should be allowed to get paid for being a TV star. No one should be making anything for the rights to their own image either. I am free to go out and invent something and earn money from it, however, the NCAA wants to investigate and make sure that none of my investors are alumni of the school where I play football while I go to college. Or go to college while I play football, I am not sure.
Should the fact that the NCAA is still stuck in the Dark Ages be allowed to prevent kids from earning money off of their hard work and preparations for 10-15 years? The NCAA should be required to separate the two. At least in their regulations. Signing an autograph is not the same as throwing a ball 60 YDS for a TD. The NCAA is holding the fact that these kids now have other opportunities available for income against them. The two sides of this coin, celebrity status vs. athletic performance have to have separation. After all, no college is going to offer a kid a scholarship based upon how they sign their name, are they?
Some are going to ask if I am advocating opening the flood gates and letting the waters rise. Do I want to see billions of dollars going in these kids pockets with no oversight and no regulation? The only way I can answer those questions is this: If I am doing nothing illegal, and I pay my taxes on every dollar I earn, does the government care how I make my money? The answer is no, not so long as they get their cut. Make no mistake though, they will get their cut, one way or another. My gut feeling is that if the NCAA could figure out how to get theirs without looking any worse than they already do, they wouldn't care either.