Sports — 28 April 2017

COMMENTARY

By Konnor McIntosh @easymoney_mac

When you see a business make close to a billion dollars annually with little-to-no compensation to the workers, logically there is something seriously wrong. One could be left wondering why anyone would want to be a part of a system like this, but 460,000 student-athletes are under the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rule every year across 24 different sports.

If you’ve followed the relationship between college athletes and the NCAA, you will undoubtedly come across columns demanding payment of players and comparisons of the NCAA to modern day slavery. While paying players because they generate revenue is an action with good intention, what is overlooked are the unintended consequences that could result from doing this.

Like any action with good intentions, the unintended consequences often times create a larger problem than what was in place already, as is the case in politics.

There is no question that student athletes put forth a balancing act that many who don’t play don’t know much about. Non-stop training, a heavy practice schedule and maintaining eligibility in the classroom can be a challenge for 18 to 22 year old kids.

But the problem is when we discuss paying student athletes; in reality the only athletes that are focused on are from the men’s football and basketball teams, because most of the time they are the only athletic programs making the school money. This could lead to a debate that would change a fixed-wage system into an open market system sooner rather than later.

The reason for this is that a battle would ensue for paying the most valuable athletes the highest wages. In turn, the football program would argue to cut funding to other programs like the women’s rowing team, which didn’t provide revenue.

Do we pay the same amount to the women’s rowing team as the USC quarterback? They both face the challenges of being student-athletes at division one universities, and even though the value provided financially may differ, the NCAA’s laws don’t place a higher emphasis based on one sport over the other.

The challenges that come along with paying every student-athlete is that there would have to be cuts to programs to offset the deficits that would naturally pile up.

Right now, even without any payments being handed out to athletes, colleges across the country, especially smaller ones, have been forced to cut programs due to budget issues.

In 2014, University of Alabama-Birmingham’s football program was forced to temporarily shut down due to the rising costs of running a football program.

According to ESPN.com, UAB said in a release that it subsidizes $20 million of the athletic department’s operating budget of some $30 million annually. Both of those numbers rank fifth in Conference USA. The university said the difference over the next five years would be an extra $49 million with football, including a projected $22 million needed for football facilities and upgrades.

In short, even football was not sustainable. It took a last-gasp $17.2 million fundraiser from community members and other boosters to save it. In 1995, Pacific also cut its football program for good due to similar reasons.

Many college programs appear to have endless money, but this sometimes is deceptive.

According to Listland.com, big name schools such as Auburn and Rutgers have undergone renovations to their athletic facilities, which has left the programs in the red despite TV contracts with CBS and the Big Ten Network. Rutgers has a deficit of $36 million after their $102 million football stadium renovation — in hopes of getting more recruits. But their financial reality means in the long run a smaller talent pool in a pay for play system.

Not all college programs create the revenue necessary to compete in an open market system, and a salary for the biggest revenue producing players means a cut in other programs, and a cut in other programs means fewer scholarships, which would only hurt ones who need them the most: the low income students who wouldn’t have the financial wherewithal to attend the school normally.

No one is questioning the commitment it takes to be a student-athlete, but a conversation about highlighting the unintended consequences is something that rarely gets brought up.

This is something that could leave more student-athletes affected in the opportunity to compete and further their athletic prowess in the first place – something far more important than trying to determine proper compensation for the small percentage of athletes who you can argue provide financial value to the school.

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Paris Ellis

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