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National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes must use time management wisely in their respective sport and in the class room to achieve their goals inside and outside the classroom. What these student athletes do not have, that students who don’t play a sport do have, is the time to work and earn a steady income. The argument regarding NCAA athletes being paid to play college sports has been a discussion, often heated, for a very long time. Many teams have slipped through the cracks and ignored the rules of the NCAA, but that story is for a different time. Right now, I would like to talk about the possibilities of compensating student athletes and the reasons surrounding why I feel it should happen. I have chosen to explore this subject because I was a division one NCAA lacrosse athlete, with an above average scholarship, but was also privileged to have parents who could support me financially while I was away at college. During my time playing division one lacrosse, I witnessed many student athletes whose families couldn’t support them financially, not in the way that my family was able to support me. This is just one reason I feel this is an important argument to explore. In addition, some student athletes don’t receive athletic scholarships, burdening them with education costs, living expenses, and without enough spare time to earn money. This blog will discuss whether it is fair to compensate athletes in the NCAA, and the differences in compensation depending on how much revenue a sport generates. This is an important factor because different college sports generate different amounts of revenue. The main research question this blog will explore is whether or not to pay NCAA athletes at all, and if so, should universities compensate all their athletes equally. Furthermore, should sports that generate more money, such as football, pay their athletes larger sums than a sport like lacrosse which generates less money.  This blog will also explore how much revenue the average NCAA division one football and lacrosse team brings into their respective schools to help answer the question of where that revenue is spent. The NCAA exploits student athletes, demanding their time and energy in a strict environment, without compensation, and the rest of this blog will explain how and why.

Is Life of a Student Athlete Tough?

Richard Sherman, who was a Seattle Seahawk at the time this video was made, talks about the struggles of being a student athlete. He doesn’t talk at all about compensating NCAA athletes, but what he does explain is how managing your time as a student athlete is not an easy task. I can tell you from personal experience that attending classes, studying, and completing assignments while having lift times, practice times, and other college sport related activities is extremely challenging and stressful. I either had to leave class early or arrive at practice late to make both my professor and coach happy. A part time job is almost impossible if you want any sort of life outside of your respective college sport, education, and work. Richard Sherman also talks about the struggles with not having extra cash. He states that he had to decide if “he wanted gas for the car, or a meal for the day”. He also explains that his bank account was “more times in a negative then a positive”. This is just one case where compensation while playing a sport would have made an athlete’s life easier. Compensation in the NCAA is a very complicated discussion and we need to know some facts before we can start looking at resolutions to the issues.

NCAA Football and Lacrosse Facts

There is a humongous gap when comparing the revenue generated by lacrosse versus football. Because of my love for the game I would definitely choose lacrosse over football, but if I were choosing a sport to make money, I might reconsider. Business Insider informs us, that as of 2016, football teams average about $29.6 million in revenue annually compared to men’s lacrosse at $865 thousand annually (Gaines, 2016). $865 thousand annually might seem small in comparison to football revenue, but in reality there are 18 sports that make less money annually than lacrosse. There are only 7 sports ahead of lacrosse in making more money annually. This means that if lacrosse would struggle to pay their athletes, other sports would have even more difficulty doing so.

Football, on the other hand, has more money than they know what to do with. According to a research article by Cristian Santesteban and Keith Leffler, Texas A&M football brings in around $190 million dollars annually (Santesteban & Leffler, 2017) which is a big outlier compared to the average. Is there room for Texas A&M to pay their players after expenses? Statements tell us that in the 2014 -15 season Texas A&M had $137 million in expenses. These expenses include paying the coach who makes “$75 million over 10 years” (Steinberg, 2017). This leaves more then $50 million to do with as they please.

Financially, lacrosse is intriguing, because there is much room for improvement. Lacrosse is the fastest growing college sport which makes it’s future very bright. As said above, lacrosse averages $865 thousand dollars of revenue per year. This number will increase as the sport grows. In 2014 the average expenses for NCAA lacrosse teams ranged from $400 thousand to more than $2 million (Kretzschmar, 2014). This year, Marquette University tops the annual revenue with $3.8 million (College Raptor, 2018).

How Do College Teams Make Revenue?

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Friedman and Andrews talk about the built spectacle and how the stadiums athletes play in are described as “fantasy cities” (Andrews, Freidman, 2010).  These big stadiums bring communities together to watch sporting events while creating revenue for the city and the university itself. Many of these higher end football schools like Texas A&M, have humongous stadiums where they fill the seats every game. Ticket sales themselves override college lacrosse teams’ total revenue. For instance, in 2014 Syracuse Orange lacrosse program averaged 4,140 people per game (Stevens, 2014) while division one college football averages 28 thousand people per game (NCAA, 2014). The attendance differences directly relate to the average revenues between the two sports. The more people attending the games equates to more revenue.

The authors go on to talk about how “The spectacle is an illusion that ‘serves as total justification for the conditions and aims of the existing system” (Freidman & Andrews, 2010). The illusion in this case are the stadiums and facilities at the high-end football schools that draw in top recruit athletes. This is essential because fans want to watch the up and coming prodigies, which in turn translates into more tickets sold. NCAA football is not allowed to pay their athletes, but they entice top recruits by making their school more appealing. This brings up a market that is described by Ted Tatos. He describes that the first market for NCAA teams are the high school athletes entering their freshman year or returning college athletes entering other years. The interaction is described as the high school athletes’ skills in return for their scholarships (Tatos, 2017). This means that a student athlete gains financial help to pay for their room and board, education, and meal program. Some student athletes receive full ride (everything paid for) scholarships, but some receive only partial scholarships, much of it depending on their athletic abilities. The financial help gained from these scholarships goes directly to school expenses, no cash is available to the student.

Thomas Corrigan describes certain conglomerates and how they “see sports media and even sports franchises as valuable cross-promotional content for their other media properties and corporate advertisers” (Corrigan, 2014). This suggests that college sports receive income through conglomerates and streaming companies. Tatos explains the second market is through the “schools selling their broadcasting rights through the NCAA” (Tatos, 2017). Some of the broadcasters include “ESPN, CBS, NBC” (Tatos, 2017). Its really true what they say, “spend money to make money”.

A study by Kurt Rotthoff and Kaylyn Sanbower estimated that a division one college football player that will be part of the NFL draft is worth around “$1.3 million per season” (Rotthoff & Sanbower, 2015). The two authors describe that student athlete’s  actions are what make them professionals in college sports. The word amateurism is only their title. This article has an interesting argument because the money that the players gain for the school and the program go directly into the hands of the coach, never the athlete. The coach is labeled as a professional while the students are labeled as amateurs.

Interesting enough, the NCAA has a “Student Assistance Fund” that raised $75 million from “the association’s multibillion dollar media rights deals” (Wolverton, 2013). Apparently not all the money went to the students, and the name of what this fund is supposed to be for was ignored. Another interesting point is that according to the article “at the end of the 2011-12 academic year, Big Ten universities had a $2.1 million surplus of assistance-fund dollars, about 20 percent more than the previous year” (Wolverton, 2013). This fact raises some major red flags, making us wonder why these funds are not going toward assisting the NCAA student athlete, and what the surplus is actually being spent on.

Other Opinions

Kennith Cooper cited that two law professors at Michigan State University, Robert and Amy McCormick, “think it is definitely a job for football players on athletic scholarships at Division I schools” (Cooper, 2011). They describe their reasoning as the football players having the characteristics of  “employees”, and should be “under federal labor laws and entitled to form unions and negotiate wages, hours and working conditions” (Cooper, 2011).

Tom Sullivan, the president of the University of Vermont, took the opposite stance on this issue. He wrote an article talking about how the “amateurism” (Sullivan, 2014) of the NCAA would be lost if the compensation of student athletes actually went through. I can see where his argument is coming from because Vermont isn’t one of the big revenue powerhouses of the football world. It would be an unfair advantage if the bigger schools, who generate way more revenue, were paying their players. The University of Vermont could never compete with the salaries these powerhouse schools could offer.

Recommendations and My Opinions

Life as a student athlete is hard. Athletes come from varying backgrounds, privileged, under privileged, and everything in between. Looking at all the facts and opinions, it is possible to assist student athletes financially, but it is my opinion that all athletes, no matter the sport they play, should be compensated equally. All the sports teams in each university should have to pool their revenue and pay matching monetary amounts to their student athletes. Each school should pay their athletes the same amount so that schools that bring in higher revenue do not have an unfair advantage when recruiting players. My opinion though is not to consider this a player salary, but instead continue to call it the NCAA “Student Assistance Fund” which is meant to go towards helping students with clothing, transportation, and other necessities. I don’t agree with paying student athletes six figures, but something slightly above a minimum wage full time job. Most of these student athletes are between the age of 18 and 22 years. The main purpose of these funds is to assist them with basic living expenses, and allow them the time to play their sport and study, not make them rich.

References

Andrews, D & Friedman, M. (2010). The Built Sport Spectacle and The Opacity of Democracy. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 46(2), p. 181-204.

College Raptor. (2018). Top Sports by Revenue for 2018. Retrieved from https://www.collegeraptor.com/college-rankings/details/TopRevenue/Sports/Lacrosse

Cooper, K. (2011). Should College Athletes Be Paid to Play? Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 28(10) pp. 12-13

Corrigan, T. (2014). The Political Economy of Sports and New Media. Routledge, p.43-50.

Gaines, C. (2016). The average college football team makes more money than the next 25 college sports combined. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/college-sports-revenue-2016-16

Kretzschmar, M. (2014). How Much do Colleges Spend on D1 Men’s Lacrosse Programs? Retrieved from http://www.diycollegerankings.com/much-colleges-spend-d1-mens-lacrosse-programs-2/7471/

Leffler, K & Santesteban, C. (2017). Assessing the Efficiency Justifications for the NCAA Player Compensation Restrictions. Stanford University, 62(1), p. 91-111

NCAA. (2014). NCAA Football Attendance. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/championships/statistics/ncaa-football-attendance

Rotthoff, K & Sanbower, K. (2015). Professional ‘amateurs’ in the NCAA: the impact of downstream demand. Applied Economics Letters, 23(5), p.373-376.

Steinberg, L. (2017). Are College Football Head Coaches Worth Their Massive Salaries? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/leighsteinberg/2017/12/06/are-college-football-head-coaches-worth-their-massive-salaries/#5afc64315acd

Stevens, P. (2014). College lacrosse: Syracuse finishes season No. 1 — in average attendance. Retrieved from http://www.syracuse.com/patrick-stevens/index.ssf/2014/05/college_lacrosse_syracuse_fini_1.html

Sullivan, T. (2014). NCAA’s Latest Pay-to-Play Scheme Would Sack Concept of Amateur Student Athlete, Raise Antitrust Questions. New England Journal of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://web-b-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ehost/detail/detail?vid=1&sid=0e1a692a-06fd-4e88-bac6-c9e2f9543fde%40sessionmgr103&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=98927877&db=a9h

Tatos, T. (2017). Deconstructing the NCAA’s Procompetitive Justifications to Demonstrate Antitrust Injury and Calculate Lost Compensation: The Evidence Against NCAA Amateurism. The Antitrust Bulletin, 62(1), p.184-236.

USA Today. (2016). NCAA Finances. Retrieved from http://sports.usatoday.com/ncaa/finances/

Wolverton, B. (2013). NCAA Money for Student Assistance Lands in Many Pockets, Big Ten Document Shows. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.lexisnexis.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=171267&sr=HEADLINE(NCAA+Money+for+Student+Assistance+Lands+in+Many+Pockets%2C+Big+Ten+Document+Shows)%2BAND%2BDATE%2BIS%2B2013

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