College football needs a new mattress to sleep on. The old one is lumpy because of all of the money hidden beneath it.
The University of Alabama lured coach Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins Wednesday with a fully guaranteed, eight-year, $32 million contract.
Arizona State, not exactly one of the haves in intercollegiate athletics, is paying two basketball coaches and two football coaches in the same fiscal year.
Ohio State and Florida each will receive approximately $18 million for playing in the BCS national championship game Monday. They’ll have to split the golden egg with other schools in their respective conferences, but it’s still a nice payday.
The cash flow has reignited a familiar debate: Should college athletes get paid? Are they not, essentially, employees of the university and as such deserve to share in the profits?
Anthony Gonzalez thinks so. The Ohio State wide receiver believes the NCAA is taking advantage of the very faces and talents it promotes.
“I think in all honesty one of the most exploited groups of people in this country are college athletes,” Gonzalez said. “We basically have a job that generates millions and millions of dollars and at the end of the day we don’t see any of it.”
Let’s ignore the hyperbole — you and I can think of several groups more exploited than college athletes — and focus on the realities.
There’s no doubt universities are making money off the backs of their athletes. Ohio State’s athletic programs generated $77,036,298 in revenue during the 2005-2006 school year, according to a U.S. Department of Education report. The football team alone brought in $60,773,532.
Meanwhile, scholarship athletes say they don’t have enough money to treat their significant other to a nice dinner.
“I believe we should be paid, but I’m broke,” Florida defensive tackle Joe Cohen said. “The players can’t work (as per NCAA rules), and even if we could, we don’t have the time, between school, studying, practicing and working out. I’d like to see an allowance of some kind, at least.”
One notion that’s floated around for years: Give student-athletes a slice of the television rights/merchandising/corporate sponsors’ pie, perhaps a monthly stipend of $100.
It would seem the right thing to do, until you consider how to do it.
First, paying athletes invites abuse by university officials and boosters. In the 1970s, athletes received a “laundry allowance” of $15 a month, but the NCAA had to stop the practice because the $15 was turning into $50 or more.
Second, the NCAA could not just compensate athletes whose sports generate the greatest amount of revenue for the university. Title IX advocates would immediately argue that female athletes deserve a stipend. Minor sports participants would want some walking-around money as well.
Arizona State has approximately 500 scholarship athletes. At $100 a month over a calendar year, that’s $600,000 a season.
Schools in BCS conferences would be able to afford that price tag, but what about wholesale shops like Northern Arizona and Ball State? Paying student-athletes would cripple their athletic departments.
You can be sure, too, that universities big and small would pass the additional costs onto their fans in higher prices for tickets, merchandise and concessions.
“The reality is you just can’t do it,” Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith said. “When you get to a point where you’re paying athletes, then you’re getting into a true employee-employer relationship. I’m not one who believes in that.”
Those who advocate a monthly stipend seem to forget one thing: Athletes already are getting paid.
A four-year, out-of-state scholarship at Ohio State is worth approximately $120,000, according to Smith.
Now, one can argue that the football player with his eye on the NFL isn’t at Ohio State to earn a diploma. But if he fails to take advantage of the educational opportunity afforded him, whose fault is that?
“Being able to go to a university and get an undergraduate degree and play sports can be a life-changing experience if you have the vision to understand that,” said ASU athletic director Lisa Love.
It’s just a matter of seeing past the dollar signs.
“We do get an education from the deal and life experience that a lot of people don’t,” Florida cornerback Ryan Smith said. “When you start talking about money, it kind of changes the game. That’s the kind of things you’re dealing with in the NFL.
“What makes college football so different and unique is the fact that everybody’s kind of playing for each other. There’s no money involved. It’s just a family unit thing. We might be getting exploited. But I don’t really see the point for players to be getting paid.”
As he spoke Wednesday, Gonzalez was wearing a new gray sweatsuit with a national championship game logo, courtesy of Ohio State. Players on both teams received an XM satellite radio and a commemorative watch.
Try telling that to the student who works 40 hours a week and is paying off his student loan for 10 years.
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 1:25 p.m. on The Fan (1060 AM) with Bob Kemp.