Why College Athletes Should Not Get Paid

In the midst of twitter hacks, conference realignment, and player suspensions, the talk of the NCAA football world has still centered on revenue and player payments. There’s truth to both sides of the argument that has nearly every talking head asking former players for their opinion on the subject. Not surprisingly, most agree that college athletes should get paid because the universities are profiting on monies paid to watch the student athlete.

[caption id="attachment_1096" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Cam Newton's Dad turned down $$$ from Miss St. but he played at Auburn for free. Hmmmmm....."][/caption]

The flip-side of course, is that college athletes DO get a form of payment. It just comes in the form of free education, room, and board, rather than a paycheck every two weeks. I’ll spare you a list of why I don’t think college athletes should get additional payment, because FORBES spells out what pretty much exactly what I think about the subject. What I will do though, is give you a little breakdown, thinly veiled as scientific analysis, of a student athlete receiving a scholarship versus a student working at McDonald’s and paying for their own tuition.

The reason I chose to compare the two is because the main argument of the “pro-payment” side is that the universities are making an exorbitant amount of money from a product produced by a labor force that it doesn’t pay. Or if they do admit that the athletes receive a form of payment, the argument is then that it is too little. On that same note, I would argue that a McDonald’s employee is underpaid. While some may feel that the consumer is paying for the food (like a ticketholder paying to see the player), someone still needs to make that food for you to eat (like a university supplying the equipment, uniforms, stadium, tuition for players etc.). With both scenarios, we have students who work while also attending school. Therefore, I feel that these two scenarios are similar enough to be compared to each other.

Let’s start with the profit side:

-          The University of Michigan football program took in a revenue of $64 million last year, which resulted in a $45 million profit after accounting for the costs. After factoring the costs to run all of the other sports offered at UofM, the athletic department still made out with $24.5 million.

-          An average McDonald’s franchise nets a profit of $2.3 million. Although this would probably be higher on or near a college campus, we’ll stick with that number.

Now, let’s compare a fantasy situation where athletes and employees are compensated equally across the board, without regard to management level or sport played (because, you know, not compensating “non-revenue” sports, i.e. women’s sports, might not go over well with the Title IX crowd):

-          The University of Michigan has 765 scholarship athletes, and 101 coaches. Each person would receive $28,290 if compensated for their 2010 work on the fields/courts/etc.

-          The average McDonald’s franchise has 50 employees. Each person would receive $46, 000 if there was no difference between manager, cashier, or fry cook.

Finally, on to the real comparison. An average University of Michigan sophomore (in-state) racks up $25,204 in tuition, room, and board.

-          In addition to getting that covered, a scholarship athlete also gets perks like free tutoring, priority class scheduling, sponsor apparel, and stipends for meals when on the road. If players aren’t living in the dorms, they’re given a living stipend. I couldn’t find accurate date of the UofM living stipend, but USC’s is $900/month. If multiple players live together in the same residence and the cost of living is less than what they are each given, they can pocket the cash. Dorm food can get real old real quick, but hey, free is free. In addition, road meal stipends are an easy way to pocket spending money. Players are given something in the realm of $50 each for meals in a day. Most of the time, teams have a catered breakfast together in the hotel, and then a sack lunch given by the school on the way to the game. You’d be hard pressed to find college aged kids spending all of the remaining stipend money on food alone.

-          Meanwhile, the student working 40 hours a week at the local McDonald’s franchise, pulls in $15,392 on his/her state of Michigan minimum wage ($7.40/hour) salary. After taxes, that’s $12,220, which still leaves $12,984 owed to the University of Michigan.

[caption id="attachment_1094" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Some athletes already get paid anyway. "][/caption]

Without getting into the socio-economic aspects of this debate, both scenarios involved a student working while attending school and end with a student graduating (hopefully) with a degree. The scholarship athletes are clearly given advantages over the average working student, not to mention the non-working student. It’s my opinion that those advantages are enough, and that athletes don’t require additional compensation. And the next time you hear a former or current college athlete use a form of the line, “A kid’s gotta eat”, please remind them that the dorm cafeteria is still open.