The complete insanity of the pay for play crowd

It's become 'edgy' for pundits to promote the idea that college athletes should be paid. Hell it's down right trendy to break out the big bar charts of how much these 'evil' institutions are making at the expense of the poor, mistreated, student athlete.  I'm sick and tired of it, and it needs to stop.

Some do it as a way to defend the actions of rule breaking institutions without actually saying "it's OK to break the rules". How often during them Cam Newton fiasco did a commentator or fellow fan say 'They should just pay the athletes'. Even if it was ok to pay college athletes I personally don't think paying a quarterback 50 thousand a year will stop him from trying to break recruiting rules to get some cash money up front.

There are so many tired, recycled, arguments that get puked up during these debates and whether it's PBS or ESPN, or some of my fellow SBNation Bloggers the regurgitation does not help the massively flawed idea smell better to those who like amateur athletics.

The most recent painful example of this type of thought comes straight from the desk Rick Maese. He was following up on a recent front line show. The irony of a show aired on a non profit network where executives make big money receiving government money taking shots at another no profit which funds itself through TV contracts should not be lost on anyone.

He begins:

There is no trickledown economics when it comes to college sports. While the money swirls all around them, the athletes at the center of the hoops spectacle are strictly out of bounds.

See what he did there? He has narrowed the scope of these discussions to the revenue sports. Specifically this article is focusing on Basketball given that it was released around March Madness. Were we too take a look at the latest NCAA Wrestling championships in Philadelphia I doubt there would be too much hand wringing about all the dollars floating around that event.

The NCAA requires that each division one school carries a good number of sports and title XI requires that those sports be more or less gender balanced. Hence you have some programs that generate money like Basketball and some that are a wash in red ink like Women's rowing.

Unless Mr Maese wants to make the leap that its not worth talking about Women's Crew, or Men's Tennis this attitude makes the basic premise of his piece fall apart. Like any organization there are profit syncs and profit sources. By law you would have to pay athletes in those sports the same amount of money.

And the result is a report that pokes gorilla-size holes in the antiquated idea of amateurism, comparing today’s college basketball players to indentured servants.

An indentured servant is one who signs and is bound to work for another for a specified time especially in return for payment of travel expenses and maintenance. While it's true that players sign a letter of intent to attend a school that letter only 'binds' them to that school for the following year. They can wait a year to enroll in collgege or transfer to another school.

A player can walk away from their scholarship and school at any time. Many do leave school before they complete their degree, many leave for other schools, and some drop out.

Calling players 'indentured servants' is hyperbole of the highest degree! We live in a world where some suffer real life slavery and underground indentured servitude. Lets compare the life of a point guard at UConn to a real indentured servant living in the underground economy somewhere in a major urban area.

The details and arguments are not new. Generations of college athletes have generated revenue for their schools, for the NCAA and for television networks, while pocketing only a chance at a four-year education.

Firstly the age of an argument has absolutely nothing to do with how valid that argument is. There are still people out there who are sure the earth is at the center of the universe they are no more correct now than they were 500 years ago.

Secondly the author here injects his opinion in the same train of thought as the facts. By saying they 'only' get a chance at an education he simultaneously tries to establish that there is little value in that education and ignores other investments made towards the future of that athlete. I'll get to those other investments later.

There are any number of down-on-their-luck former college stars who could illustrate the hypocrisy of the NCAA and its refusal to financially compensate its employees — er, its student-athletes.

He says this as if the existence of 'down-on-their-luck' people is somehow unique to college sports. Are there no down on their luck philosophy majors that received financial aid? The mere existence of people who are hurting is not evidence of hypocrisy nor is it a compelling reason to start paying kids cash money.

There are professional athletes that are down on their luck, outsourced IT people down on their luck, MC Hammer was hawking used cars not too long ago. When someone is down on their luck seldom is it because they were financially abused.

The NCAA clings to the romantic image of students wearing letterman jackets and smiles without acknowledging that the entire landscape has changed. In the past three decades especially, college sports has become big business and its profit margins remain remarkable because it features an unpaid workforce. Emmert fails to explain why virtually the only thing unchanged is the compensation for the athletes.

Again, his argument hinges on two things. First that a four, or five year education at these division one schools is not of any real value and second that the education is the only form of compensation that they receive. I'll get to both of these later.

He also injects another common misconception, that the profit margins of NCAA schools is through the roof. While there are some schools that make a bit of money many of the 120 FBS football schools, and 340 basketball schools operate in the red. There is a reason that student fees for athletics exist at most schools, because there are only six conferences in which a school stands any chance of making money in a year. The rest all run deeply in the red.

Were you to implement a form of direct player compensation the big six schools are the only schools that could afford it.  This would further establish a power structure which would have excluded the rise of schools like Boise in football and Butler in basketball.

The NCAA is in the midst of a $10.8 billion TV contract. Most head coaches pull in seven-figure salaries — a topic unfortunately glossed over in the "Frontline" report. And the NCAA executives are resting their heads on pillows of cash each night. According to reports, more than a dozen NCAA employees collectively earn more than $6 million in salary a year.

He might as well have just put a picture of scrooge McDuck up wearing an NCAA button. It would have been just as factually relevant and might have been a bit humorous. Instead he rips off some numbers without any background as to what those numbers actually mean. Look at what the numbers really are and what they mean.

That 10.8 Billion dollar contract is over 14 years, something which Mr Maese decided to completely omit. That 771 Million Dollars a year, is a much less intimidating number. Where does that money go?

Well a lot of it is distributed back to the schools. 60% or roughly 450 Million ends up going to the 340 division one members. 13% of the money goes to funding the championship event of all sports, not just the revenue sports. There are other national programs that the NCAA supports to the tune of 19% of the money.

The NCAA Provides a full breakdown here

As to coaches? He once again is only talking about Basketball and Football, and even then he is wrong.

First lets talk about what the average soccer, baseball, or cross country coach makes. Universities have more more non revenue coaches being paid than they do coaches who's teams net a profit. But lets adopt his narrow field of view.

58 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision Coaches make one or more million a year. right off the bat that is less than half. which puts it blow the bar of 'most' but why do any real research when you're in the midst of a good rant. By the same token only about 35 of the 340 division one Basketball Coaches make a million a year.

In total the big money sports Division one Basketball and FBS football have about 90 of 460 head coaches in the seven figures club. If you were to throw in women's hoops and all the non revenue sports you're probably looking at less than 10% of all college head coaches sporting the rich uncle money bags outfit from monopoly.

Now onto his critique of the NCAA Itself. 'More than a dozen people collectively make 6 million a year'. That might be meaningful if he, or front line, told us how many more than a dozen. This reads as follows: When you combine the salaries of more than 12 people its more than six million. We won't tell you how many, it could be 13 or 33.

Even if its 13 you're down to less than 500K per person and we know one of them, Mark Emmert, is making somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million. So that puts 12 people making 4 million dollars or 333,000 each. Yes that's a lot of money, no that's not "Pillows full of cash money".

And therein lies the crux of the NCAA’s position: The student-athletes are compensated with an education, the value of which pales in comparison to the dollars they bring to their universities.

I have put this one off long enough, now it's time to take aim at the core of his argument. One that a college education at, say UConn, is not a huge value and two that the education is the *only* compensation they get.

Let's start by looking at those indentured servants 'working' for UConn. If I, a native New Yorker, had wanted to attend UConn without the benefit of a scholarship I would have had to come up with about 42 thousand dollars a year if I wanted to pay tuition, room and board, and cover incidentals like text books. Overall UConn spends more than a half million dollars a year just on scholarship, room, board, and books for their 13 men's basketball players.

How many of those players would have even qualified for a trip to Stors without the ride that basketball provided. These players all get over a minimum bar needed to qualify for the scholarships but that bar is quite a bit lower than your average college student at the top 50 or so institutions.

I don't want to imply that all, or even most, scholarship athletes could not clear that bar but we all know that a good number would be at a community college rather than a top 50 university if they were not gifted athletes. There is true value in education, and education that many of these kids would never have had the chance to get without college athletics.

My first job out of College was an an Engineer working for the Army. I had racked up about 50,000 dollars in debt and held a job though four years of school and was offered the generous sum of 40,000 a year. I am not complaining about the offer but I do think it helps to illustrate the fact that these players often receive more in direct student aid than many people who have a bachelors degree are starting out with.

His argument also hinges on ignoring the net negative brought in by Women's Hoops, and other non revenue sports. Many athletic departments use the revenue from Basketball or Football to fund the dozen or so other sports they are mandated to carry by the NCAA.

The second way in which his premise is a total failure is by ignoring the money spent on training and developing these athletes. How much money do colleges spend on weight rooms, insurance to cover athletes, and other training related tasks. The few who do make it to the next level owe it largely to the training and equipment provided by the coaches.

An aspiring basketball player has few options other than becoming a part of the well-oiled NCAA machine whether or not he wants an education. The "Frontline" segment does a good job bringing in graduation rates. Of the 68 schools in this year’s tournament, the piece notes that 16 teams graduated fewer than half of their players. Of the Final Four teams, Connecticut graduated 31 percent of its players, Kentucky 44 percent, Virginia Commonwealth 56 percent and Butler 83 percent,

Wow do you mean 70 percent of UConns basketball players escape their indentured servitude? I guess the campus needs higher walls, guard dogs, and ankle bracelets.

Kidding aside the graduation rates in college athletics are deplorable but that is a separate issue. One that needs to be addressed on a school by school basis maybe by withholding funds from schools with low graduation rates. But paying athletes will do nothing to address the graduation rate and a kids decision to forgo a world class education does nothing to diminish the value of what they gave up.

The NCAA is a nonprofit organization and enjoys tax-exempt status. It could hang its hat in good conscience on the notion of amateurism 50 years ago, when the cost of an education might have matched the revenue generated by its student-athletes.

But it’s now in the business of signing billion-dollar contracts and paying everyone except the stars of the show, a point "Frontline" continually raises and Emmert willingly ignores.

It's amusing that at a time when the cost of a college education is going through the roof, putting fresh graduates in more and more debt that Maese is trying to sell you the idea that the only thing rising is the revenue generated and not the compensation that a free education is worth.

Compensating student Athletes would only make the corruption and "boy's club" problems in the NCAA worse than they already are. There are also serious implications as far as Title XI is concerned. Do you pay female basketball players less than the Men? Do you pay football players but not softball players.

The entire pay for play idea is a house of cards is built on false assumptions, half truths, non truths, and the need to join an ever growing number of commentators who thik the answer to a flawed system is found by breaking it even further.

The answer to the money problem in college sports is a distribution system which rewards academic success (graduation rates) as much as it does success on the court or field. By paying players only those schools that could afford to pay their basketball stars as much as their long jumpers you move in the opposite direction. And you would greatly reduce the number institutions that can foster the type of atmosphere and culture that so many of its students enjoy.

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