- Might Casey strikes out.
- Tiger hits one into the rough.
- Michael Jordan heaves a brick.
- “Wide Right” defines one of the key rivalries of the 90’s.
- Frank Deford pens a pile of garbage.
Even though Deford is one of the most renowned print journalists of his era, he threw up a real clunker when he decided that college athletes need to be paid. Let’s look at Deford’s thesis:
It is perfectly unconscionable that big-time college football and basketball players go unpaid. They are employees, and deserve to be paid based on the National Labor Relations Act.
Ignoring his thesis for a moment, here are a few reasons why I call the Deford article garbage:
- He makes almost no legitimate effort to defend his thesis.
- He makes no attempt at providing an even and fair presentation of the issue.
- He makes no effort to show how a New Deal law protecting the rights of workers to form unions somehow applies to college athletes.
- He doesn’t discuss the logical consequences of paying college athletes.
- He doesn’t discuss the potential problems of only paying male athletes in basketball and football.
- He appears to confuse “alot of money” with an “infinite of money”.
- He assumes that every athletic department in the country is flush with cash.
Let’s assume for a moment that the National Labor Relations Board agrees with Deford’s legal assessment and requires college to begin paying college athletes, what would happen?
This is where Deford’s shaky grasp of basic economic principles shows through his weak analysis. This is the same thing that all of the supporters for Title IX failed to grasp….chiefly that “a lot of money” is not equivalent to “an infinite amount of money.” Just because TV pays millions of dollars for broadcast rights, just because ticket prices continue to climb, and just because boosters donate millions more dollars…this does not mean that athletic departments all over the country are desperately looking for new ways to spend their ill-gotten gains.
What did we see with Title IX? Did we ever see an argument that women’s softball was more important than men’s wrestling?…..of course not. Title IX supporters only pointed at perceived inequities and wanted more money spent on scholarships for women. But in the end what we saw was that money for non-revenue men’s sports was transferred to fund new sports for women. (I didn’t realize this until I worked with a guy whose swimming scholarship was canceled as soon as Title IX became effective.)
Now is women’s softball more or less important than men’s wrestling? It’s hard for me to imagine that very many people care either way. But in the end, this is the type of choice that was made in order to come into compliance with Title IX…and the type of choice that would have to be made if you want to start paying athletes some sort of salary or stipend.
If the experiences of the recent past are not convincing enough, let’s look at a few real numbers. A quick search led to an article from the student paper at Penn State discussing their athletic department finances and a summary of the Big 10. They showed that three athletic departments in the Big 10 reported losses and one more reported breaking even (and two more were only marginally in the black). If athletic departments in a BCS conference are not making money, then how do you think that schools from some of the smaller conferences are doing?
- NOTE: All of the colleges file reports that include athletic expenses/revenues with the Federal Government and are available at Equity in Athletics. It doesn’t appear that the financial numbers are consistently reported from one school to the next…but most articles that you read on finances in college sports utilize the information from this site.
There is absolutely no way to start paying all (or even some) of the athletes a stipend or salary without negatively affecting the so-called non-revenue sports…and the athletes participating in those sports. How many non-revenue sports would be affected would vary by institution based on the total value of the proposed salaries (after all, Michigan is $17M in the black) .
Speaking of total salary cost, is there anyone that thinks that schools could get away with paying male basketball players and NOT paying female ones? How can you pay female basketball players and not pay the softball team? Deford assumes that you would only pay athletes from the revenue sports…but doesn’t bother to explain how the National Labor Relations Act distinguishes between football players and softball players. (Just like he avoids a lot of other details in his quest for truth, justice, and the American way.)
As soon as Dick Vitale gets his voice back, we will be subjected to hearing the same crap from him (after he gets tired of pimping for Coach K and Bobby Knight). Vitale’s pitch is normally made in conjunction with an attempt to tug at your heart strings with a reference to poor kids from the inner-cities. What Dick will fail to mention is that these poor kids are most likely already receiving money from Pell Grants. The bottom line is that things are not really so simple and clear cut as presented in many of these commentaries.
Look, I have no problem with paying all college athletes a stipend of some sort….just like I have no problems with the idea of a college football playoff. But to discuss either issue while willfully ignoring the financial aspects is simply folly. If you want to pay athletes, then at least be honest enough to list the non-revenue sports that you want to cancel.
Short of legal action, discussing whether or not to pay college athletes replaces Div 1 football playoffs on my personal list of the biggest wastes of time. I would much rather have someone explain to me why schools waste so much money on women’s basketball:
Familiar with the low end of financial reports, the women’s basketball program loses money at an alarming rate. The Lady Lions were $1.76 million in the red last season, in which the team went 19-11 and played in the NCAA Tournament.
Upon being told for the first time of the women’s team’s losses, one source within the athletic department could only utter a monosyllabic response of surprise: “Wow!”
Women’s basketball has proven to be dead weight for the typical athletic department looking to stay afloat financially. Only seven programs in the country reported a profit last year.