Swingggggg And A Miss!

– 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:

The ugly

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.

About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982

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43 Responses to Swingggggg And A Miss!

  1. Astral Rain2 01/07/2008 at 3:30 PM #

    One could argue that the non-revenue sports shouldn’t be mandated.

    That will likely deliver a lot of howls from people, and probably rightfully so, but one can make a case that it’s not a good thing to fund those sports.

    I’d say cancel most non-revenue sports.

  2. BillyVest 01/07/2008 at 4:13 PM #

    Once you start paying players to play…you’ll end up with bidding wars…I don’t see how you can require the payment for an athlete to be equal across the board…if Texas can spend more on its athletes than Texas Tech, for example, how can you restrict Texas from paying more to their players…

  3. highonlowe 01/07/2008 at 4:16 PM #

    College athletes DO get paid. Its called a scholarship.

  4. Dr. BadgerPack 01/07/2008 at 4:17 PM #

    ^Not only that, but states with no income tax would have a more attractive “rate” than schools where the payment would be taxed by the state, so it would be REALLY hard to mandate a flat rate and make it work. Plus cost of living, and a host of other factors.

    I always assumed that everyone was talking about a flat rate set by the NCAA. I never considered the effect of income tax.

  5. Girlfriend in a Coma 01/07/2008 at 4:22 PM #

    Plus all kinds of free food, books, travel, special tutoring, and more.

  6. RAWFS 01/07/2008 at 4:43 PM #

    What’s room, board, books and tuition worth on the average today? Add to that the taxes that they don’t pay and you have some darned good “pay” for scholarship athletes. Not only that, they will come out of college with no student loan debt to weigh down their earnings like many of their classmates will. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

  7. whitefang 01/07/2008 at 4:57 PM #

    This is ludicrous. As you rightly point out there is no way to make this work UNLESS you are willing to deep six the non-revs.
    Plus then you would almost certainly guarantee a split in Div 1 to the haves vs the have-nots. The haves would rightly want to “block” the have-nots from the money bowls, NCAA b-ball tournments, etc in order to feed the monster that was created (of course they already do want to do this I suspect, but are not willing or able to force it). Not to mention the splits in conferences.
    Then I guess we go to a high school draft or you have – “Son play for us here at Ohio State and I can pay you $500,000 per year – 4 times what Northwestern offered.” Then players aren’t going to the schools they want but the ones who drafted them.
    This whole thing would make today’s recruiting wars look like a walk in the park.

  8. VaWolf82 01/07/2008 at 5:16 PM #

    What’s room, board, books and tuition worth on the average today? Add to that the taxes that they don’t pay and you have some darned good “pay”

    Add health insurance (no-deductible, 100% coverage) to the list.

  9. Sweet jumper 01/07/2008 at 5:34 PM #

    I agree with HighonLowe. College athletes are paid with a scholarship. Obviously a scholarship is worth more at Duke, Davidson or Wake Forest versus instate tuition at a public university. However, I don’t know how you put a price on a college degree. It is very valuable and opens doors for the rest of your life. The jock mentality and the quest for a pro contract overshadow this fact. A full scholarship is the only way to “pay” a college athlete or we will have bidding wars won by only the wealthiest institutions.

  10. Sam92 01/07/2008 at 6:01 PM #

    paying the players would take the heart out of college football (and basketball, and whoever else got paid). a big part of the enthusiasm the fans, students, alums feel for the team is based on an understanding, with all its faults, that the team really are students at the university not so unlike anyone else. this creates a feeling of identification – linking the players, the team and the fan base.

    if they were hired to play, i think we’d all feel differently about the team – who are these hired guns anyway? and if they did get paid, what would really be the point of requiring them to be students – it seems like they should really be staff, and that’s hardly inspiring.

    paying the players would forever destroy the mystique of college sports, and it won’t happen. ever.

    there is some exploitation going on too though. high school football players cannot go directly to the NFL, they have no option for football other than college teams (indeed, the NFL gets the great benefit of using the college system as its minor league/farm teams) — so, people are paying to watch the games, i.e., they are paying to see the players, but the players aren’t getting any of that money (except perhaps the minuscule percentage of the revenue equal to the scholarship amount)

    the players are raising a tremendous amount of revenue that they don’t get, and the “choice” to play college ball is suspect when there is no other route to the NFL. i love college football, but there is some exploitation of the players going on

  11. bTHEredterror 01/07/2008 at 6:23 PM #

    And once payments are intitiated, the next step will be someone like JJ Hickson negotiating a larger contract, because it would be “unfair” to pay him equally to a bench rider since he is more productive and likely to sell more tickets.

    So this is inadvertantly an argument for a pernicious type of socialism? Where adults, almost totally unencumbered with any sense of morals, can strike it rich while the cogs in the machine, the athletes, get minimum wage in scholarship monies and should be glad of it?

    A classic conundrum, and the NCAA has taken a Harrison Bergeron approach, punish (or limit if you prefer) the privileged for the good of the average. I think these kids will understand how great free market principles are when they enter the workforce.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate open checkbooks, but some of the external employment restrictions need to be relaxed.

    My dad told me of some urban legends in Bama, where Ken Stabler was paid 400 a month or so to turn on the gym lights in the morning, when 400 a month was like 2500 now. So the NCAA says no one can work in season, walk-ons included, and off season employment is limited to a certain income level to avoid those type of suspect transactions.

    If you allow the programs and sports full capitalist rights, there will be A LOT of programs & non-revenue sports going under. Lower divisions would go under. And millions of productive and integral members of society (but not going pro in sports) would be denied some great friendships and character building episodes that are a part of intercollegiate athletics. And a huge, and I think wonderful, aspect of American society would be reduced to an exclusive privilege.

  12. jwrenn29 01/07/2008 at 7:27 PM #

    Heck, they get paid. They just can’t report it. 😀

  13. TopTenPack 01/07/2008 at 7:41 PM #

    Would people support college athletics if we paid our athletes? I do not think people will will donate money to professional athletes. In Chile, the large universities have professional soccer teams that use their name. Does that help or hurt the universities, I doubt it. Do people support their team like we do here, no.

    I would like to see both the NFL and the MBA develop minor leagues that could accept talent who have no business in college. That way, great talent could be paid and not taint college athletics.

    Off topic and non-athletic:
    NC State #13 value in public education. There is something we can be proud of! Oh, well, UNX is #1.

  14. BorntoHowl 01/07/2008 at 8:06 PM #

    I heard this on NPR on the way to work and had one of those opinion changing moments about Deford.

    I’m a traditionalist and purist agreeing a lot with what SAM92 says.

    I might additionally add that some number maybe 95% of scholarship athletes do not play pro sports. Their pay is their degree of which many would not have received. One of the few good things about the NCAA is academic progress toward graduation which gets you the degree that you may not have had the drive or motivtion to get on your own.

    On the other hand, the 5% that go on to the pros had a chance to develop their skills to prepare them for their profession. How many football and basketball players are ready for the pros out of high school… maybe 1 in 10,000. It’s a farm system extraodinaire playing in front of the most passionate fans in all of sports. Not to mention the possibility of a degree, or at least learning how to behave in public and not act like a complete idiot during an interview.

    Title IX had good intentions, but deficit spending can only go on for so long.

    I do think the coaches have substantially tapped into the increases in TV revenues at the expense of the minor sports, but most alumni and fans prefer a nationally ranked football team over fully funded vollyeball scholarships any day.

  15. LRM 01/07/2008 at 8:12 PM #

    He bases his “argument” on inequalities?

    “…virtually the only athletes who are not paid are our college football and basketball players — whose numbers, ironically, include so many poor African-Americans.”

    So if we’re paying athletes, do the rich, white kids like Peyton and Eli Manning not deserve to get paid, only the poor black kids? Great idea Frank, let’s make the NCAA a socialist organization.

    I have a novel idea. Poor kids — white or black — that will never make it to the NFL or NBA should do what the rest of us that never had that chance did: take full advantage of the opportunities many had GIVEN to them — even though in many cases, they were undeserved whereas the rest of us had to work hard to get into and through college — and get a legit degree and then go find a job. At least they won’t owe $25K over ten years to pay it off.

  16. choppack1 01/07/2008 at 8:53 PM #

    In the world of big time college football and big time college basketball, there is huge exploitation going on.

    It’s pretty stunning how much $$ big time football and b’ball generate for coaches, colleges and college communities.

    Of course, these kids are already being paid the equivalent of anywhere between 20-50K a year depending on the school. Most scholarship athlete’s – even football and basketball- come out ahead in this deal.

    Some obviously don’t. Schools sell jerseys not just of the school, but of those players.

    It’s really kind of an odd relationship – colleges get more benefit of the players, than the players get from the colleges.

    Whether you pay them or not, there is a lot of “issues” caused by the huge amount of revenue:
    If you pay them:
    How do you distribute the revenue? Do all scholarship players get the same? Is it seniority based? Is it merit-based?
    If you say that “these guys should be paid, because what they do generates so much money” – you should stick to your guns – and let the market decide.

    Not “paying” them in an activity that generates such outrageous revenue is also questionable. I really think the following items should be changed to make the entire operation more ethical:
    1) For football players and basketball players scholarships can’t be revoked unless a felony conviction, honor code conviction, multiple misdemeanor convictions.
    2) Admission into graduate school studies for these same athletes and scholarships as long as student is working way toward degree.
    3) Shared revenue w/athletes when selling jerseys w/ # for that athlete.

  17. Trip 01/08/2008 at 4:23 AM #

    Honestly, I don’t think the schools are making enough money off athletes to say they’re “exploiting” them. The profit that is made from basketball/football is put toward non revenue sports in most cases, which leads to all but maybe the top 10 universities barely balancing a budget. It’s not as if the university is pocketing all of this cash and spending it on 20,000$ toilet seat covers at the chancellors house, this is a University, not a typical greedy corporation. Most of the profit is going to CBS/ESPN/FSN. If anyone is going to pay the athletes, it should be them.

    I’m not against a stipend that gives a little every week so that athlete’s can put gas in their car or buy plane tickets so that their parents can watch them play every once in a while but it should be a set amount that is regulated by the NCAA, not the university themselves. The only reason I’m for a stipend is because the NCAA currently bans all athletes from having ANY part time job, so if the school doesn’t supply it, they have to find the cash from their parents which in some cases just isn’t possible.

  18. hoop 01/08/2008 at 5:25 AM #

    That’s an interesting point about athletes not being allowed to have part time jobs.

    I wonder though. Anybody know if these kids can not profit from having their own website? A blog from a famous collegiate athlete would definitely get lots of traffic, and adverts on the blog could generate income for the athlete. Anybody know if this is covered?

    How about if they design their own line of clothing? Perform some type of design work?

    Are athletes simply banned from generating any income for themselves?

  19. LRM 01/08/2008 at 7:23 AM #

    I believe athletes can have part-time jobs and many do (that’s how Rhett Bomar and JD Quinn got into trouble working at an Oklahoma car dealership), they just have to be university-sanctioned, I believe.

    The biggest issue with an athlete working is that they don’t have time because all their time is accounted for practicing, doing offseason conditioning, and getting expensive free tutoring. Most of us work our way through college to PAY for college — their college is free. Call me callous, but I refuse to buy that college athletes are victims of exploitation.

    The reason the NCAA is so strict on athletes working part-time jobs is to prevent $500 car washes for the star running back.

  20. haze 01/08/2008 at 8:10 AM #

    As for athletes being exploited, this statement obviously doesn’t apply to any athlete’s playing in non-revenue sports. For those kids, the school is paying out more in resources (e.g. full/partial schollys, coaches, facilities, etc.) than the kids exploits are apparently worth. Are the kids exploiting the school? Uh, no.

    For revenue athletes, yes, the school makes a profit while the kids work their tails off for the previously mentioned $25-50k/yr in benefits. However, since most schools are just running these profits back into the other sports, while simultaneously improving the campus life of many non-athlete students, it’s not usually a pure profit motive. Plus, the kicker here is that it is the revenue sports, generally, that are most likely to lead directly to a professional career in sport. So, if the colleges provide the best “farm” system out there, then they are by definition providing these kids with the opportunity to improve themselves (through coaching, training, etc., all provided by the school) and present themselves to potential employers on the best stage available. That has a real, if somewhat intangible, value that is not offset by the fact that most kids won’t make it in the pro’s. Point is, they were given an opportunity to try in a system sustained by the colleges and at no cost to the student.

    There are shades of gray here but nothing that really feels like exploitation.

  21. RAWFS 01/08/2008 at 8:13 AM #

    The NCAA is so strict that Oklahoma got nothing for Rhett Bomar’s “ghost job” at a car dealership, on the other hand:

    Oklahoma Ousts QB

    an internal investigation revealed two players received “extra compensation above that to which they were entitled related to their employment at a private business,” a violation of NCAA rules.

    The moral of the story? If you are a highly marketable team, as is Oklahoma, then wring your hands and no punishment will come from a strict NCAA. The NCAA runs a multi-billion dollar business, after all, and they aren’t going to lower the value of that business by enforcing silly little rules about market-value compensation for working a part-time job. (Unless you are a peripheral team to the big picture.)

  22. cacollin 01/08/2008 at 8:28 AM #

    If I read the financial data correctly (from the Equity in Athletics link), State’s athletic department made a little over $1.1 million last year – anyone know who the other six profitable programs were?

  23. RedTerror29 01/08/2008 at 9:23 AM #

    Well said, Haze.

    Of course these kids are paid, the scholarship has a monetary value. And there is an actual cash payment as well – football players, etc. get a check the same time as everyone else on financial aid.

    I wonder how much they do wind up making an hour? I tried to calculate it myself once, but couldn’t find the number on how many hours a year they can officially devote to their sport.

    It seems like the NCAA could just raise the maximum for the non-tuition, room, and board portion of the scholarship so the players got a bigger check. Of course, I’ve long said the federal cap on financial aid by loosening the “cost of attendance” calculation.

  24. Noah 01/08/2008 at 9:39 AM #

    Exploitation my ass.

    If a college basketball or football player doesn’t think he’s being treated fairly…don’t play.

    Seriously, how many players are we talking about here? How many guys are getting a raw deal? There’s 300 basketball teams in D1. There’s maybe 15 or 20 “stars” of college basketball in a given season….out of 3600 players? You’re going to pay OJ Mayo the same amount as the 12th man on the team at Prairie View?

    I don’t know if the loophole is still in place, but athletes made all kinds of money in the past in college. Part of their tuition includes housing money. Because they were adults and had incomes of $0.00, they qualified for section eight housing. Most college towns have decent section eight housing units for their students. We’re not talking about “the projects.” So, they can pocket their housing money and live in decent off-campus housing.

    There’s a hundred legal and illegal loopholes.

    Not paid? Please.

  25. VaWolf82 01/08/2008 at 9:44 AM #

    so if the school doesn’t supply it, they have to find the cash from their parents which in some cases just isn’t possible.

    In most cases, if the parent(s) are that poor then the kids would qualify for PELL grants. So the sob story about poor kids who can’t afford a new pair of jeans is BS in most cases.

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