College Athletes Deserve Some Equity
In college sports, it seems that everybody gets paid except the athlete. That’s a raw deal. The players provide the labor that produces winning teams, which in turn, generates heightened fan interest. As a result, football stadiums and basketball arenas are filled to capacity, translating into fatter operating budgets for the athletic powers.The money trail doesn’t end there. Here’s a sampling:nUniversity of Florida football coach Steve Spurrier earns $2 million a year. Perks include performance bonuses (for his teams winning conference titles and going to bowl games), a clothing allowance, money for radio and television shows, a sportswear contract and two free cars — one for the coach, the other for Mrs. Spurrier.nTennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt doesn’t fare badly either. Summitt’s $500,000 a year income breaks down into a $175,00 base salary, $150,00 for radio and television shows, a $125,00 sports apparel contract, plus a $50,000 retention bonus.nTulsa basketball coach Bill Self got a sweet deal after his team fell one win short of advancing to this year’s Final Four of the National Collegiate Atheletic Association tournament. He turned down an offer from the University of Nebraska that would have paid him anywhere from $800,000 to $1 million annually. Self, however, is being well compensated for staying put. He’s now making $650,000 — a whopping $300,000 raise — and for good measure, the school tossed in a $1 million annuity that kicks in if he stays with the program for five more years.nShoe contracts are becoming a regular source of income at most of the major colleges. Schools don’t usually reveal how much they make from shoe contracts. But that’s not the case at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which has a five-year, $7.1 million contract with Nike.Clearly, big-time college sports means big business. Last year, the payouts for football teams playing in bowl games ranged from $750,000 to $13 million.Last fall, the NCAA cut a new deal with CBS for TV rights fees to air exclusive broadcasts all NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. That contract is worth $6.2 billion and has been extended to the year 2013.Hey, that’s free enterprise, the stuff that made America what it is. But there’s still a big problem with this scenario — the athletes are systematically barred from getting into the cash flow cycle.The NCAA prohibits college athletes from earning money based on their status as amateurs. Coaches can do commercials and nobody questions their integrity or sense of fair play. For athletes, that’s a no-no, one that could jeopardize their eligibility and ultimately cause them to be banned from further collegiate competition.College athletes are at the mercy of ancient rules governing amateurism. Cases involving Chris Porter, Erick Barkley and Darnell Autry provide strong evidence of how college athletes are financially exploited by NCAA edicts:nPorter, a senior and star basketball player at Auburn University, was ruled ineligible in late February after he admitted taking $2,500 from someone representing a sports agent. Porter used the money to keep his mother from being evicted from her home. He appealed, but the suspension held up, ending Porter’s college career a week before the start of the NCAA tournament.nBarkley, a highly regarded sophomore basketball player at St. John’s University, was suspended twice by the NCAA this past season for receiving improper benefits.The first suspension resulted from him trading vehicles with a friend of the family. The second suspension came when it was discovered that an organization that Barkley played for paid his tuition while he attended prep school at Maine Central Institute. Barkley was reinstated, but the NCAA ruled he would have to pay back $3,500 of his $22,000 tuition which was paid for by Riverside Church of New York. Since the end of St. John’s season, Barkley has decided to leave school and enter this year’s National Basketball Association draft.nIn the summer of ‘96, Autry, a theater major who also played football for Northwestern University, was prohibited by NCAA rules from getting paid to appear in a movie to be shot in Italy.Autry challenged the ruling and the case went to court, but as things turned out, it was a split decision. The court ruled that Autry could work, but could not receive any pay because of his amateur status.For other college students who aren’t on full athletic scholarships, that would never happen. They would be allowed to work and be paid whatever the going wage is.Athletes having jobs has become a hot topic in college sports in recent years. And in ‘99, it seemed that the NCAA made a genuine attempt to provide some fiscal leeway, passing legislation allowing athletes to earn up to $2,000 during the school year working part-time jobs.In principle, it’s a step in the right direction, a move to be applauded. In reality, it’s a cruel joke.Given the demands of being a college athlete, putting in 20 hours a week at a part-time job is not very practical. The hours athletes would spend working at a job are already spoken for.Typically, they already spend that much time every week in team meetings, practices and traveling to out-of-town games. And depending on the sport, the time demands during the offseason aren’t that much different from the actual season.That’s why college athletes should be paid some kind of reasonable stipend, perhaps $200 a month, which should be made part of the awarded scholarship. Since they don’t have the time to work, it’s the only way they can receive money without breaking any NCAA rules. With a stipend in place, coaches and athletic administrators wouldn’t be burdened with monitoring for potential abuses by school alumni and/or booster club members.It’s the fair thing to do, especially for those athletes who come from low-income families.True, athletes who are on a “full ride” have all the basics covered for school: tuition, books and room and board. Even so, the scholarship does not include a spending money allowance to help cover incidental expenses such as laundry and bath items or being able to go to the movies or buy a hamburger and french fries.The NCAA uses the term “student-athletes” in referring to the folks who play collegiate sports. They’re supposed to be just like the rest of the student body, the only difference is that they play competitive sports.It’s clear, however, that student-athletes aren’t treated the same as their non-jock counterparts. A chemistry student going to school on an academic scholarship would not be prevented from working part-time to help pay for incidentals. The same is true for all other majors who do not play sports for the school. Why is it that athletes can’t get the same deal?Sheer greed.College sports officials need to end their shameful hypocrisy and start giving back to those who help make the institutions NCAA powerhouses. The athletes deserve some financial consideration in helping to build a multi-billion dollar industry.It’s the right thing to do.
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