Baton Rouge, Louisiana
ARE ATHLETES BEING SHORT CHANGED?
Millions of rabid college basketball fans have been glued to their TVs over the past month as March Madness reached its crescendo this past Monday night. My North Carolina Tar Heels rose to the occasion to win its second national title in the past four years. And the big bucks have been rolling in. Lots of winners, with coaches getting big salaries, and colleges spiting up their percentage of huge TV and admission revenue. But there is one group that is being both exploited and shortchanged. It’s the players themselves.
There certainly is not a shortage of income. This year in the NCAA tourney, television income is estimated to be some $600 million, with an additional $40 million from ticket sales and sponsorships. A thirty second spot for Monday night’s championship game exceeded one million dollars. And college football is awash with the same increasing yearly income. More bowl games, and ever increasing television revenue allows most college football programs to cover the cost of a growing array of minor sports.
A sign of growing sports revenue is the dramatic increase in coaches’ salaries. The University of Kentucky just hired new basketball Coach John Calipari from the University of Memphis with a salary package of $35 million over the next 10 years. In 2005-06, head coaches whose teams made the NCAA tournament had an average salary of $959,486. And that doesn’t include all the perks like free cars, country club memberships, housing subsidies, access to private jets, and generous severance packages.
In college football, the numbers are even higher. LSU football fans are still incensed over former Coach Nick Sabin taking a salary package estimated at close to $ 4 million at arch rival Alabama. South Carolina Football Coach Steve Spurrier was enticed to take the job with a free country club membership at Augusta, home of this week’s Masters Golf tournament, that includes the use of a private jet to get him there for a quick 18 holes. LSU is paying assistant football coaches $500,000 a year or more. The University of Tennessee just announced it would pay two assistant football coaches $650,000 or more each for the coming year.
By comparison, the average compensation for these NCAA tourney coaches is double or more that of the typical university president, which shows us the perverse priorities of these institutions of higher learning. Little wonder that American industry has not been standing up too well in world competition.
Fans pay through the nose to attend major college athletic events. As an LSU football season ticket holder, I personally pay $700 a seat just for the right to buy the seat. The seat ticket itself is $50 per game. So there are big bucks coming in to major college programs all over the country. Top-level college sports are big business. LSU, for example, receives some $100 million in revenue each year from ticket sales, television rights, concessions, parking, logo sales, which is about five times what the school receives in tuition revenue from all the students that attend the university.
All this income comes from one source…the athletics on the field or on the court. Yet these athletes are paid only their expenses to attend college; room, food, tuition, books, maybe a summer job, the basics. No pocket money to go to the movies, no gas money, no extras whatsoever. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented athletes, without sharing the revenue with those responsible for generating it. Such a system is ill defined at best and hypocritical at worst. The universities are reaping the value produced by their recruits, where the players are given a subsistence.
It was a little better some 40 years ago when I was lucky enough to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship. I was given a housing and food allowance that exceeded my costs, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship costs. What I received then was equivalent to some $250 in pocket money if the same were allowed today. But it’s not. The NCAA tighten up the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like myself received some years back.
Supporters of the present system will argue that there is the opportunity for these athletes to move on to the pros and make big financial returns. But we all know that very few make it to that level. They may not even end up with the basic skills necessary to succeed in other workplaces, since only a minority of student-athletes in major sports even graduate. LSU football and basketball players generally graduate at a rate of less than 40%.
There is a system in place now that’s allows our young college athletes to be exploited, and the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors. What a deal. Your body in exchange for a pittance of basic expenses. A little monthly expense money is not about to corrupt the system. $300 a month to all athletes on full athletic scholarship seems reasonable. March Madness, as is always the case, turned out to be a financial bonanza. But not for the kids that many of us paid to watch. They deserve a better shake and a small piece of this huge financial pie.
P.S. How bout them Tar Heels.
“The coaches own the athletes’ feet, the colleges own the athletes’ bodies, and the supervisors retain the large rewards. That reflects a neoplantation mentality on the campuses that is not appropriate at this time of high dollars.”
Walter Byers, the executive director of the NCAA from 1952 to 1987,
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State ofLouisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.
Jim also has a new book out on his views ofLouisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. .Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) fromNew Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.