Paying Students to Play Would Ruin College Sports

Feb 25, 2019 · 441 comments
James B. Huntington (Eldred, New York)
Allowing variable salaries is not the idea of paying college athletes. The idea is to get them identical stipends that would allow them to do things like bring their impoverished parents in to see a game.
Frederick (California)
Basing your assumptions on the data provided by the National Collegiate Athletic Association is on par with basing propaganda and abuse of social media on Facebook data. Just pay the players. They players will cover their own tuition. You're paying the coaches quite well after all.
Samir (NY, NY)
"Paying [coaches and administrators] might sound like a [fair] way to treat [the employees who recruit the athletes] who generate so much money and attention for their colleges (not to mention the television networks that broadcast their games). But paying [coaches and administrators] [distorts] the economics of college sports in a way that [hurts] the broader community of student-athletes, universities, fans and alumni. A handful of big sports programs [already do] pay top dollar for a select few [coaches and administrators who recruit the athletes who make the programs successful], while almost every other college [already doesn’t] get caught up in a bidding war it couldn’t afford." ref:
Mike (Fullerton, Ca)
Let's pay the players more and the coaches and administrators less. McDavis is a bright man. Why is he ignoring the elephant in the room? In at least 39 states, the highest paid state employee is a football or basketball coach. For example, Jim Harbaugh makes $9 million a year. Let's cut that to a million. If we split the remaining $8 million among the 85 scholarship players, each player could be paid up to $90k. For these programs to plead poverty when coaches and administrators are being paid so much is disingenuous. Mr. McDavis - let's have an honest debate with all the facts on the table. If student athletes are really athletes, let's institute a new rule. A scholarship cannot be awarded until the previous recipient has graduated. Once a player is awarded a scholarship, the school will allow him to stay in school until (s)he graduates. But if the athlete does not graduate, that scholarship is lost to the school. This will never happen because, by and large, schools don't care if the athlete in the biggest moneymaking sports graduate.
isabella (guillen)
If players that generate millions for their schools do not get paid then college coaches should not receive their seven figure salaries either.
WJL (St. Louis)
College sports is an industry and getting from where it is today to a more legitimate place is a chess game. This article looks at the first moves by Universities - to maintain the status quo - and throws out the whole effort. There should be a league in which the players are paid using a collective bargaining-type equation, and other leagues where they are not. To be in an unpaid league, the University would need to earn less than a maximum amount of ticket revenue. This would make things more just for players, make more sense economically, and be better for the sports as well, since it would be clear how to do playoffs.
arusso (oregon)
Why are there so many stories about college sports and college athletes and not about spectacular programs and educators? I thought college was about education, not sports. It is utterly shameful that the highest paid college employees are coaches, not educators. American priorities are truly a mess.
camorrista (Brooklyn, NY)
If Cody McDavis would promise me that paying student atheletes would ruin college sports, I'd beg him to tell me the fastest way to get the money to the jocks.
Jonathan (Brooklyn)
Why does a sports coach earn more than a provost or a dean? Why - when, even at schools ranked tops in their sports, most participants in the coach's program won't even work in the field that program is training them for, let alone make a good living from it? Yes, yes, teamwork and self-discipline and all the rest will serve all of the players well no matter what they do in life. No argument. But there are many ways to experience that kind of skill development without being an indentured servant and risking injury. Okay, but millions of people want to watch college sports, so there's no avoiding the network broadcasters and the shoe companies and all the other megacorporations that will be a part of making that happen. So huge money is going to flow, and even allowing for healthy profits by those companies and healthy revenues for the schools there's still plenty left over to give the coach an enormous salary. But by the same argument isn't there enough left to pay the players? If a school has a sports team that brings in revenue over some predetermined threshold, the school should be required to run that team as an employment unit with salaried employees and not as a school program with "students." (I've suggested this in another comment and I'm sorry for the repetition.) Set and cap the players' salaries as a percentage of that threshold amount, to make sure that enough is STILL left over to pay the coach handsomely and to fund lots of wonderful things at the school.
Brian Schwartz (San Jose, CA)
First, a handful of schools already compete over top talent by spending top dollars on finding and attracting blue-chip talent. It's just that money goes to the coaching staff and recruitment and athletic directors and the building of new facilities (which are then often NOT available to all of the students or student-athletes on campus) rather than to the athletes. SUNY-Stony Brook is already not able to compete with Georgia or Alabama or even Syracuse for top football talent, so that undercuts your argument that we can't compensate players for their labor because otherwise schools like Stony Brook might not be able to compete for top high-school athletic talent. We're already there. Second, the University of Wyoming is not hamstrung for cash because they spent $700k giving stipends to athletes. They are hamstrung because 2 years ago they offered the head football coach a 7-year contract with a base salary of $1.4M/year, plus incentives and annual increases. And THAT is the core of the inequality so clearly on display here. Wyoming doesn't have to cut its athletic programs or athlete stipends. Just pay that ONE head coach ONLY $700k, and voila, they can do both. Wyoming (and so many other schools) just don't want to. They chose to cut athletic programs because they wanted to pay a coach $1.4M+/yr. There is plenty enough money to go around. The powers that make the rules just don't want it to go around.
Stan Nadel (Salzburg)
So let's stick to a system that lets colleges and universities make lots of money off student players who play for peanuts in the hope that they will not be injured and will be successful enough to parley their record into a paid position in professional sports--and the hell with those who fall by the wayside? Phooey!
Steve Kelder (Austin Tx)
Why not pay an equal amount or tiered levels to all players?
Michael Browder (Chamonix, France)
No. This article is wrong. The NCAA is one of the most abusive organizations around. If smaller schools can't compete, get out of the game. But I don't think that's what will happen. Athletes need to be the center, not the administrators, the coaches, the NCAA.
Chris (Virginia)
It's already corrupt and has NOTHING to do with education. It's my opinion that the focus on winning teams is a detriment and damages the rest of the university or college. In theory, young persons go to college to get an education that will prepare them for the next stage of their life, which one hopes will include a paying job sufficient to handle those student loans. In the case of student athletes in the Big Two - football and basketball - this evidently includes being farm teams for the pros, all expenses paid by the institution, not the professional teams. And any money raised is, as pointed out, swallowed up - and then some - by expenses of having an athletic program. Better to just abolish the lot, or have semi-pro teams separate from the educational institution, franchised - at their expense - to use the college/universities' name as a brand.
Concernicus (Hopeless, America)
"A handful of programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes..." That is already happening. Has been for sometime. You don't think UCLA was always getting the best basketball recruits back in the John Wooden days by accident. The athletes generate billions of dollars, risk their bodies, and should get no pay? Get serious. End 'one and done'. Pay the athletes that we pay to watch. End the charade. The less physically gifted can play 'for the love of the game' at other schools. I wanted to watch baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray play at Oklahoma. They deserve to be paid.
Richard (Arlington, VA)
Athletes in top programs, the only ones that make money, are well compensated. They get full ride scholarships. Depending on the school, this can be worth a tax free $60k a year or more. They get, if they want it, college degrees which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars i n extra income over a lifetime. They receive personal training, nutrition advice, and skills training which would cost tens of thousands of dollars if they had to be paid for by the athletes. They learn how to be coaches, a path that numbers who don’t make it into the pros take at the high school or college level. The best build reputations that allow them to cash in on their likenesses for millions of dollars upon gong pro. Those with less promise initially somtimes go from walk-ones to the pro ranks. The discussion by media savants focuses on the handful of super talented superstars who could be earning millions, the Zion Williams of the world. These are but a handful, almost all are in basketball, unfairness resolvable by eliminating one and done. In football even Likely superstars do not have pro-ready bodies at 18. As college athletes they add muscle, gain weight and develop skills, increasing their likely health and success after they turn pro. Rather than ask whether college athletes should be paid, we should recognize that they are paid - their benefits if monetized would be substantial. I would, however, add injury insurance for athletes with clear pro potential.
lcr999 (ny)
So you justify screwing some athletes so that others can play in non-economical sports. Sounds like socialism. At a minimum, let athletes control the revenue from their endorsements/image. That costs schools nothing.
BobAz (Phoenix)
Intercollegiate athletics may have once been the province of schools themselves but in top-level football and men's' basketball they are now totally owned by TV networks. Disney (ABC, ESPN), Fox Sports, CBS, NBC, and various conference networks exert total control of scheduling and reap billions in revenue. So why don't the networks collaborate with professional leagues to set up their own PAAA (post-adolescent athletics association) for development for player development, viewer entertainment, and of course, a continuing gravy train for themselves? They easily afford to pay players, and could even license team colors and logos from the universities so alums could still have someone to root for. Ideally this would lead to elimination of athletic "scholarships" and schools forming any intercollegiate teams from real, already-enrolled students, thereby getting those 324 operating at a loss off the hook. As they say in Europe: "Want an education? Go to school. Want to play a sport? Join a club." Let's extend that a little: "Want to see your team play? Buy a ticket."
John Vesper (Tulsa)
Lost in the debate over payments to athletes, who are basically, entertainers, are the students in fields which actually contribute to society. Many of these students contribute to research, from which the university profits, yet they, too, frequently receive no payment for their time. Students in the medical, scientific and engineering disciplines come readily to mind. Education students, as well, contribute mightily to society, but receive no compensation for their studies and, in fact have to pay, mightily, for the privilege of being grossly underpaid, once they finish.
Professor62 (California)
The fatal flaw in Cody’s argument is this: College athletes HAVE BEEN PAID ever since the day, in 1952, when colleges decided to begin giving athletes scholarships. Amateurism died that day, and passionate pleas to defend it are harkening back to an ideal that hasn’t existed in 67 some years. So the only question to be asked is, How much compensation is fair?
John LeBaron (MA)
The headline blares "Paying Students to Play Would Ruin College Sports." What's left to ruin? College sports are already professionally ruined for everybody except for the students who actually play them.
Scott (Seattle)
Each time I watch college sports, I have to delude myself: These are students. This activity has something to do with the core mission of the university. And that's it OK that football coaches are the state's highest paid employees. My high school English teacher told us the best way to enjoy theater is to suspend your sense of disbelief. It helps watching college sports, too.
Jay (Mercer Island)
@Scott Suspension of disbelief for theater is fine but you neex to act conveniently dumb when watching sports.
csp123 (New York, NY)
This gets things backwards. All intercollegiate athletics in the U.S. has a disproportionate importance on campus. That undue weight has a long history, to be sure, but it is unique in global education systems. Nowhere else do institutions of higher education operate minor leagues for the benefit of professional sports. Engineering ways for this to continue is neither reasonable nor desirable. It may never happen, but all sports in U.S. higher education should be club sports. Intercollegiate athletics serves no educational purpose -- teaching team work and the pursuit of excellence are highly paid coaches' usual self-serving justifications -- that could not be served more equitably and widely in other ways. The college sports system exists in its present form only for television and sponsorship money and fundraising from boosters. It is a sad fact that the primary mental association most Americans make in thinking of higher education is NCAA sports. The tail is wagging the dog, and it is not good for America.
David (Westchester)
A free market and millions for coaches and administrators, but nothing for the students who generate that money? And don't kid yourself that education is a priority for these schools. Way too many athletes are told to study enough to retain eligibility, but no more so as to protect the coach's job. And when college athletes are injured, they are yesterday's news. All in the name of a country that claims to believe in competitive markets, but not when it risks cutting into the profits of those at the top. What kind of country are we?
Steven Englert (Aurora,CO)
The players should be paid-but NOT by the schools. Professional teams should buy the college teams-they will become minor league teams ,and the players will be paid by the pro teams.The pro teams will pay licensing fees to the schools for using the school and team names(example, Michigan State Spartans)and the pro ownership will be a matter of public record.And the pro teams will also pay a percentage of tickets,merchandising revenue,stadium costs, parking,etc.,If the individual players want to get college degrees,they can do it like everybody else does.No more athletic scholarships,and no more of the"not for profit" NCAA ripping off both athletes and schools,and the general public. On the other hand,high school sports should remain as is; I am sure it is not perfect but adolescents(especially boys) need to be involved in activities that emphasize skill,team work,and discipline.
Maurie Beck (Northridge California)
What is the function of colleges and universities? That's your answer. Sports programs warp the purpose of higher education. If professional sports need leagues to develop players, they should have minor leagues like baseball does.
Maurie Beck (Northridge California)
@Maurie Beck Arguing against my position above. Unfortunately, no matter the purpose of higher education, money talks and colleges and universities basically have little choice but to participate in NCAA sports programs, regardless of their fundamental role of education and research in society. Nothing is going to change. College Sports is corrupt and as long as there are billion dollar TV deals undergirding the whole system, paying or not paying student athletes won't change the equation. College athletes on their way to professional careers are being used by their their athletic departments, alumni, the NCAA, and the media as parasites use and infect a host.
Richard (Arlington, VA)
@Maurie Beck. The educational function of colleges has come to be seen more and more as preparing students for the job market. Athletics serves this preparation function for many players, not just as pros but more often for careers as high school or college coaches, as trainers, as scouts. True it is not an “intellectual” career but we have no problem when colleges train people to be musicians or artists. Moreover, whether in art, music or sports students are expected to take a range of courses that educate them in matters like literature and the sciences- indeed football players, to give an example, probably take more such courses than music majors.
Julie (Delaware)
I can't help but thinking that the diminuition of college sports would probably be a benefit, not a loss, to education as a whole in the US. Why is the default assumption that more high-profile sports teams, and more money spent on them, are beneficial to the university experience? What about actually going to class and learning something, rather than (for the athletes) spending most of your waking hours training, or (for the non-athletes) spending a great deal of time and mental energy watching or discussing sports, not to mention getting seriously drunk while doing so? Universities in the rest of the world seem to get by just fine, turning out well-educated citizens, with absolutely nothing like the level of attention, money, time, and tribalism expended on college athletics. The US college sports industry is a non-essential system that's simply been built up to the extent that a lot of people now assume it's always going to be there to make them a lot of money. (Can someone come up with a college sports analogue to Medicare for All?)
John de Yonge (Summit, NJ)
Well said - I couldn’t agree more. College sports is the tail wagging the dog of US higher education. The money involved in “amateur” sport is distorting the priorities of non-profit and public institutions.
Jack (East Coast)
@Julie - Totally agree. When we're paying a coach ten times the salary of a top professor; when the capital expenditure budget is consumed by stadiums and gyms instead of classrooms and laboratories, we've lost the point of a college education - and priced it out of reach for too many.
Louis (St Louis)
Agreed. It's time for serious institutions of higher learning to get out of the sports business. Why should for-profit sports enterprises (and that's what big-time NCAA sports teams are) be grafted onto colleges or universities, who's fundamental purpose should be education? If some "schools" want to stay in that business, then drop the pretense and let them become a farm-system for the NFL and the NBA.
Amanda Jones (Chicago)
Mr. McDavis, what world are you living in---the real world of Division 1 sports or the Trump world of making Division 1 sports the world of student athletes.
rapatoul (Geneva)
I have to wonder if part of the appeal of college sports is not seeing largely black athletes play hard for no income while being schooled and disciplined by largely white and highly paid coaching staffs. The whole thing has a whiff of slavery.
Donald White (Ridgefield, CT)
Where have you been? College sports are already ruined. They are a sham.
NewsReaper (Colorado)
Everything in this country oi broken and corrupt, why not college sports?
Bryan (St. Louis)
Pay them! The NCAA is doing a poor job promoting their product. Then they shrug their shoulders and say 'It's amateur athletics.' What a rip off. It will take a huge gambling scandal to bring down the NCAA. It's on the way. Do like they do young soccer stars in Europe. Let the athletes sign contracts, negotiate, and insure themselves against devastating injuries. It's harder and harder to watch football and basketball the way these young people are exploited.
John (NYC)
Okay. "...paying athletes would distort the economics of college sports in a way that would hurt the broader community of student-athletes, universities, fans and alumni." Have you taken a close look at the way colleges have structured themselves, from the heads of their administration on down, in the face of the tsunami of money that has flooded into their system since the rise of the Collegiate sports entertainment system in this country? This is big, and I mean BIG, business. Universities left the realm of being economically distorted a generation (of students) ago. College is now a system so distorted, so freighted to the needs of that money, all of which is attracted by the athletes and teams that bring it in, that the entire system is less one for the advancement of a persons intellect and education than it is one vast farm system for professional sports. That is the reality and truth of this situation. So since this is the reality why not simply adopt the payment system used by the Professionals in paying the "student" athletes? The colleges have reaped an unfair size of that aforementioned tsunami, not because the institution has done something magnificent as an educational institution, but more because of those students athletes and the sports departments of which they are a part. In effect the students are workers. It's time they reap a fairer share of their labors don't you think? John~ American Net'Zen
There (Here)
It’s a high stakes , corrupt system already, college sports are a shadow of what they were, with less and less people watching (think millenials) the future is not bright for it,
Peter Olsson MD (Hampton,NH)
College sports are already a minor league for the over-paid professional sports world
E. Garfield (Boulder)
And what about female student-athletes? Is it fair that they’re not even eligible?
SuPa (boston)
This story is garbage. I doubt that any one is saying that there would be open bidding for college athletes. 1. Pay them all a flat national stipend, like$50,000 per year in cash, beyond all scholarship/room/board charges. 2. Pay the coaches, athletic directors and college presidents less, to free up cash for the true value of the athletes.
Ann (Ross, CA)
Dan H is right. Get rid of all sports except intramural. The colleges, universities should stay in the business of educating.
Mike Alexander (Bowie Md)
For fairness give all of the athletes in college who play a profitable sport a stipend by requiring all schools to put money into the pot. It doesn't have to be the same amount for every sport but each player in each sport would be treated the same with differences based only on the division they are in. Then establish a second program to provide substantial insurance for the highest caliber athletes like Zion who are risking the most by going to college. Some of the shoe contract money can be used for this. Top players should be insured at a level to compensate them for say one third or more of their projected market value. These changes won't solve every problem with the current system but would certainly make it better.
Bill in (CT)
The biggest losers in this ridiculous system are the non-athlete students at the biggest D1 universities. They pay enormous fees to underwrite the salaries of coaches and can't even get tickets to games.
Jim Vernon (Chapel Hill, NC)
Lower the NBA age restrictions and make freshman ineligible again. The NBA should pay for their farm system and colleges should use real students to form their athletic teams.
Barbara8101 (Philadelphia PA)
Silly me--I thought that colleges already paid student athletes. The colleges provide tuition, room and board, tutors and textbooks, travel expenses and medical care--and, ultimately, the opportunity to be drafted into professional sports. Isn't that being paid?
Stephen Leahy (Shantou, China)
There is no downside risk.
Jeffrey (Wan)
Who any of you be okay with your work office simply paying you in benefits (only healthcare, dining, transportation, 401k) and no wage?
BP (Alameda, CA)
News flash for Mr. McDavis: college sports were ruined long ago by the money and the hypocrisy. Stop living in a bygone era.
jmb1014 (Boise)
Higher education and intercollegiate sports are mutually exclusive. Football is a deadly menace to players anyway. Only intramural sports have any place on a campus. The quality of education is invariably compromised whenever a school participates in intercollegiate sports. And public subsidies for professional sports need to end. Let the team owners pay for stadiums. America's obsession with team sports has produced a national culture where obesity thrives, drug abuse is rampant, women are exploited, lawlessness is encouraged as coaches and players are seen as above the law, and education is devalued. Enough already.
BS (Chadds Ford, Pa)
I can’t speak for ruining college sports, but paying college athletes to play would certainly hurt the college sports business and all the perks and benefits it provides to every non athlete that feed at that trough. If you pay these young men and women, maybe they would hang around college long enough to get a degree.
Kira (Kathez)
cody, its been pro for a long time. pay the kids.
charles (san francisco)
Really? We are wasting time on this debate? Athletes in major sports get perks beyond the wildest dreams of most students, who have to actually pay for their educations. Joe Nocera, in this paper, wasted acres of ink making idiotic arguments for paying college athletes. Most of them would sell their families to get the privileges they get. I don't see college athletes forming picket lines. 'Nuff said.
Jerry S (Chelsea)
First, stop calling them student athletes. The basketball players at Duke and Kentucky and other top basketball schools have no intention of getting a degree, they play one year and go pro. That rule is for the benefit of the NBA. They don't want to sign someone to a multi million contract before they see him play college. The alternative is not pay them but let them go pro when they can. There is a racial element. A lot of black kids, many from poor backgrounds, are told they can't earn a salary doing the only thing they are great at. If these were rich white kids, they would hire a lawyer and sue for the right to work.
Frank Travaline (South Jersey)
Why are less programs necessarily a bad thing? It might lead to more education. Coaches salaries are out of control. When student/athletes get injured, they can lose their scholarship and must often pay medical expenses out of pocket. n hip In terms of representing the students interests, NCAA's record is horrible.
AJ (Midwest)
Athletes need to form a protest, whereby they take the field on opening day, meet at the 50 yard line, and sit down and refuse to play until they receive just compensation. Expose the hypocrisy where it happens, on Saturday in the Gladiator's ring, er, gridiron. Same for the NCAA tournament final four. Sit and demand fair compensation. And people will listen. And the jerks at the NCAA can get the message - until it hits their wallet they couldnt care less
Paul Ferreira (New York, NY)
1. Students are already being paid to play. Average cost of university is $34,000 dollars. 2. Colleges are always getting caught cheating the system in a multitude of ways. 3. Why should universities make millions upon millions of dollars off of someone else's talent and providing little compensation in terms of a good education to those athlete students? 4. While universities make millions in profits, why does tuition and fees go up every year? Where is the money going? College sports is a thoroughly corrupt enterprise. Why no one at the FBI has looked under the floorboards is beyond me.
Math Professor (Northern California)
“Paying Students to Play Would Ruin College Sports” Some things never change. Newspaper headline from the 1860’s: “Freeing Slaves Would Ruin Cotton Growing”.
John Stroughair (PA)
College sports is already ruined. Why not recognise reality and pay “student” athletes.
It is also deeply ironic that the best example of functional communism in the USA is supported by millions of fans who hate communism.
Citizenz (Albany NY)
It is already ruined.
Andrew (Pennsylvania)
Same old, same old — college sports are a heterogenous lot — the true amateur version exists only in intramurals — in fact, a good case could be made that the most hypocritical area of college sports are DIII non-scholarship amongst those DIIIs that choose to be good at sports — the money might be small but the bending of rules is Texas Tech coach’s salary — search the Web & you will find a map that identifies the highest paid public employee in each state: in most that will be the head football coach at the flagship state institution — the only real answer is to acknowledge the obvious & have intercollegiate football & basketball (the main culprits) report to the PR office, pay the athletes as employees one of the perks of which is access to an education if they want it!
rjon (Mahomet, Ilinois)
High profile college sports are entertainment. They’re also advertising, of the school, of “the university experience,” for a fully commercial operation called the modern university. They’re also a cultural abomination. This, not from the point of view of academia, which somehow believes the world(s) of scholarship should be “pure,” but from the point of view of cultural metaphor. High profile sports are a (so-called) moral equivalent of war, a moral equivalent of tribalism—above all, they’re a distraction from the business of living a decent life. Let’s face it—we’re amusing ourselves to death. Don’t forget to pick up your NCAA basketball sheets as soon as they’re available......
talesofgenji (NY)
When University coaches are paid ten times Nobel Prize winners it sends the wrong message.
Max duPont (NYC)
Agree with the title, slavery is so much more preferable for couch potatoes and businesses.
Anonymous (USA)
Exploiting students athletes for billions is ruinous enough as it is, thank you very much.
Ed Reifsnyder (Colorado)
“ruin college sports...”. So what? What has the current sports paradigm got to do with education, anyway? If you stand back from the traditions, school ego, rabid alumni, all this has nothing to do with an educational mission. And most colleges/universities lose money on sports...meaning student money gets to subsidize sports. It’s just nuts.
Wayne (Portsmouth RI)
I think both the NBA and NCAA benefit from players staying in school longer. I think the players do as well. The players that don’t go pro get a free education if they go four years and go to real classes. The players pay the price if they are hurt, if they can’t afford books if they are not covered by scholarships. Perhaps the NBA and the schools could pay for disability insurance for the players provided the players agree to stay for 3 years, can transfer without a year lost and the schools get refunded if the student graduates with a viable degree. The insurance company would weigh in on injured players playing if school and player don’t agree. The better schools would likely not get reimbursement because their players are more likely to go early.
K. Ebert (Ballston Lake, NY)
This is a much bigger issue than just compensation for players. The entire athletic system in colleges and even high schools has gotten out of control. Shoe companies pay elite schools at both levels large sums of money to have their players display their foot wear and other clothing. Students by default become walking (and running) billboards for these companies and by extension - indentured servants - to the companies and schools. Let us not kid ourselves, this is slavery by another name - scholarships. In addition, the seasons keep getting longer so conferences and schools can continue to get richer. The more games, the more money; but also more possibilities for injuries and more time away from classes - if elite players even have time to attend these. The whole system needs to be turned upside down. Conference tournaments and playoffs should be eliminated, seasons shortened, coaches paid like professors, etc. Other wise, compensation needs to be seriously considered to these erstwhile slaves. March is not the only madness surrounding this situation. The whole system is insane from top to bottom.
Neil R (Oklahoma)
Start with abandoning the artifice that these young people are students first and athletes second. This idea is patently false. Let the most talented go play for the NBA or NFL, as the case may be, and be paid to develop their talents without the charade of being a student at an institution of higher education. Those who choose to attend college will be able to do so at their own expense. Meanwhile, colleges can lease their massive sport facilities to the professional leagues and put the money to use providing academic scholarships for people who need the assistance but have little athletic talent.
Barbara Lee (Philadelphia)
Why are college sports as cheap feeder programs for the pros even allowed? The pro teams will figure out other ways to find talent, and the money could be used for actual education. Sure, some alumni would be annoyed, but if they're only donating because there is a sports team, maybe losing those donations wouldn't matter so much when the school doesn't need the money to subsidize them...
Don McLeod (London, ON)
Just for fun I went to the internet to calculate the most recent one year total compensation for the head basketball and football coaches for the 6 universities referenced in the article...Duke, Wyoming, North Dakota State, North Dakota, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Are you ready? 32 million, 460 thousand dollars! Who knew?
lcr999 (ny)
Gee, maybe if they paid the coaches less they could actually pay the athletes. There is after all only a limited market for expensive coaches. They may not be happy making 250K, but what else are they going to do. There are only a few dozen pro coaching jobs available. Poor guys, have to work for only 250K instead of 1M$
Old Ben (Philly Philly)
Paying players does not ruin sports. Paying college or even high school players is a way of compensating them for non-academic hours. A student working their way through college washing dishes in the cafeteria or working in the admissions office is not expected to go unpaid by way of showing school spirit. Their attendance depends on their being paid. Many college athletes and many in private high schools come from families that could not afford to pay for them to attend without scholarships and such. The idea though that they go unpaid while the student working in the bookstore Is compensated a portion of the value his work gives the school is not about school spirit, it is exploitation plain and simple. The coach does not work for the minimum wage out of school spirit. Neither does the college president. A student who brings millions of dollars of revenue to the school should never have been expected to give all of that value up as a question of honor in sportsmanship. Undoubtedly, a few rich students can actually afford to do that. Most cannot. Even those who can should at the very least be given a tax deduction for their contribution. Just like alumni are.
Jordan (E)
Money being taken from coaches/administrators pay checks would be ideal, but the odds of that happening are extremely low. In the mean time, the NCAA should allow these athletes to make money off of their own likeness (merchandise sales, public appearances, autographs, etc). It isn't as much as a professional paycheck, but it would provide revenue streams for elite level college athletes without hurting the less profitable schools & their allegedly small budgets.
pirranha299 (Philadelphia)
This article is spot on, in an era when college debt and tuition is skyrocketing and so called progressives are about Free College" why are so many comments dismissing scholarships as if they are nothing. it's Simple, if you are an athlete and want to be paid to play and your skills match your desire than go to the g league, or play abroad. Don't go to college, but if you want the opportunity to develop your skills with free coaching, build your body with free training facilities, study with free tutors,showcase your talent and/or build your brand through the free visibility that college sports provide than go to college, but don't whine about not being paid as if all of the above benefits are nothing.
John Weston Parry, (Silver Spring, MD)
It all depends on how it is structured. Separate the major sports programs from university control and make those sports separate businesses, which receive no university financial support, but still pay rent for use of the campus facilities. Then those programs, like pro franchises, have to decide who gets paid what. That would include reducing the salaries of the over priced coaches and athletic directors.
Anonymot (CT)
I went to my university before greed and money were the sole standards of success. It was a major Midwestern state U. I lived in a fraternity that had national champions in several areas of athletics. Two of them were world record holders, several All-American in football. None of them were planning to become pro players, teachers, coaches maybe, but except for the football guys, they were real students headed for real professions. Yes, they got plenty of attention. Yes, 2 major football players were PE majors and were known to have profs who "helped" them pass their courses, but none of them received any kind of financial incentives. It was Sport. And we were Big Ten champions in almost every sport from fencing to football, basketball to baseball for several years running. It was back when fraternities and sororities were still respectable and the athletes were just part of the mix. Ten years later, money took over the world of sport and it just became an overpaid business. As they say, What goes around comes around. The Blues & Greens of Rome and Byzance were identical to today when money, fame, and corruption ruled all games. The fans became paid hooligans and militias. Like many things, athletics is already out of control. Dreaming of when they were sports is like dreaming the country will return to political brilliance.
VK (São Paulo)
I've heard (don't know if it's true) that the Texas Tech head coach receives circa US$ 1 million of salary. Since Texas Tech is a State public institution, that would make him, technically, the highest paid public employee in Texas.
Wilson P (DFW)
@VK He would be way begin d the Texas A&M coach 7.5M per year and the Texas coach at 6M per year, both of whom take a backseat to Alabama coach, the Michigan coach and the Ohio State coach. CEO pay for the coaches and a “free ride” for the players. Maybe the players should copy the teachers and take to the streets.
lcr999 (ny)
College sports are advertising/alumni relations. They do not necessarily have to make a profit to be useful
William Burgess Leavenworth (Searsmont, Maine)
Pay college athletes? Why not? We've already made varsity sports the chief beneficiary of our tax-supported "socialized" education. In Maine, cursive writing is no longer taught at the primary school level--so our children will never be able to read the original documents that comprise the foundation of our democratic republic. In 40 states the highest-paid state employee is a football, basketball or hockey coach, while many adjunct teachers are eligible for food stamps. We must assume that the problems of the future will be solved on the playing fields, not in the classrooms and laboratories. Meanwhile, back in the civilized world, our "socialist" competitors offer tax-supported free university tuition, and some pay their graduate students a salary to do their research and write their dissertations. Those countries let private businesses fund their varsity teams. America's public schools, under the DeVos woman's leadership, are paving the way into third-world intellectual mediocrity, but nobody is following us.
Will Eigo (Plano Tx!)
I played inter-collegiate lacrosse in the 1980s. Practices and games six days a week for four months ( Feb-May ). No off season commitments. We rarely travelled more than three hours for a away game. No airports, No hotels overnight. I captained the team, I earned league all star team status and my grades were as good in season as off season. 3.5 Bus Adm. TV, endorsements, excessive boosterism, excessive W/L focus and the rest perverts the true glory of participation. The answer is BALANCE of amateur purposes rather than fiscal and fame REACH.
Kohl (Ohio)
The reality is that the players who drive revenue and deserve more than what they currently receive end up getting paid at the professional level. There are very few players in that category. 99% of college football and basketball players currently receive more than what they are worth. There's no reason to change the rules to benefit the 1% of players who are not currently getting what they deserve in college when they will end up making that money in the professional ranks shortly. Players today currently receive quite a bit. Studies show the annual value of their scholarships and the benefits that come with them are over $100k. The lifestyle of a D1 football or basketball player is infinitely more glamorous than the lifestyle of a minor league baseball player.
VK (São Paulo)
Well, the argument for college sports is that is finances the rest of the college (including heterodox courses). The problem is that tuitions continue to rise. So students are not seeing/feeling the benefits.
Sheri (Ohio)
College student-athletes are just that--the word "student" is first for a reason. Perhaps we need to treat more of them as such. Rather than treating many college athletes as professionals with arguably similar training and travel schedules, the NCAA should ensure by rules that student-athletes have the time and incentive to be students. A college education is fair compensation for athletic accomplishment--but only if one is truly afforded real opportunity to pursue that education. NCAA rules in recent years have allowed our universities to become farm teams for the pros--allowing easy transfers to assure playing time or exposure, allowing athletes to leave campuses earlier to join professional ranks. It seems a sports scholarship should not only include a realistic opportunity to earn a degree, it ought to also carry with it a commitment to actually earn a degree--and at the institution that granted the money. College sports have much to offer--they are an area of excellence, they provide a sense of community inside and outside the campus and are a literal playing field for many life lessons. University athletic participation, however, should not be a full-time job such that consideration of pay is even being considered.
D I Shaw (Maryland)
Wow! What a distorted view this writer has of the purpose of a university! He wrings his hands over the possibility that a university might not have a competitive sports team if "student" athletes are paid, and large universities hoover up all the "talent." Why should anyone care? College sports started when gentlemen played games amongst schools for honor in the spirit of the amateur, or one who loves an activity for itself, rather than glory or profit. At that point, it was probably a good way to work off the excess physical energy of youth, and a way to sublimate tribal impulses so that everyone could function as good citizens in the larger society. What we have now is big business, with outrageously overpaid coaches whose power, as power does, corrupts them completely. These sports programs exist at the cost of the fundamental purpose of the institution, which is the educate people to think clearly and critically, and to understand the culture and society into which they were born. Power, greed, and ego being what they are, I am not optimistic that college sports teams can ever again be what a philosophy professor might coach late in the afternoon, but if nearly grown men want to play games for money, let them do it for a professional team and leave the university out of it, and to its primary and legitimate purpose of education.
Ralph (pompton plains)
@D I Shaw Nicely said.
Civres (Kingston NJ)
College sports is corrupt, and paying athletes will do nothing to end the corruption and may only make it worse. It's time to cap executive (coaching) compensation and tax the huge payoffs from TV broadcast rights, shoe manufacturers, alumni contributors, and ticket sales that college athletic programs have been funneling into coaching salaries and facility enhancements. Revenue in excess of reasonable expenses should be sequestered from the athletic department, and applied to rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure evident at some many state universities, and to lowering the tuition students pay to get a college education. No level of compensation for the athletes can correct the immoral trajectory of college sports, and suppressing the wealth-generating capacity of college sports will not work: taxing that wealth and putting it to beneficial purpose may.
College is not the minor leagues of the professional leagues. It is a bastion of higher learning. There is no requirement, legal or moral, to operate like a professional franchise. The trade was always education for play. If athletes don't want that, there are minor leagues into which they can matriculate. There is no argument for pay to play. Go elsewhere. The jocks I teach are smart and committed to their education. I don't want to see that change.
Rob (Northern NJ)
As a HS coach, I've had a number of kids recruited into D1 programs who spend 40 hours a week training year round. They are given specially designed low end courses (with tutors) to ensure that their "academics" do not interfere with their athletic program. If they are not in the 1% that get drafted by a pro team, they have no education and few prospects. I counsel the smarter ones to drop down to a D3 program, where the demands are less and they can get the education they deserve. The only group more hypocritical than the NCAA, are the alumni boosters who fund this 21st century plantation and bluster on how they are helping kids get an education. Believe me, they know better. You want professional college teams? Pay the kids so at least they are earning a share of the massive profits in exchange for sacrificing an education. Better yet, don't pay them at all. Allow the pro leagues to create their own minor leagues and return athletics to the students.
PeteM (Flint, MI)
@Rob Isn't the only major sport with a minor league that high school players can join immediately football? The NBA has its developmental league, and baseball and hockey have well-developed farm systems. My understanding is that there are safety concerns about allowing 18 year olds to play in the NFL. If there were an NFL DL limited to players 1-3 years out of high school would your concerns be addressed?
DinahMoeHum (Westchester County, NY)
@Rob Lots of times, the boosters aren't even alumni.
DanH (North Flyover)
The solution is easy. Get all schools out of sports except intramural. What you have in this country is a taxpayer-funded farm system. Let professional sports fund and operate their own farm systems. If you want to fix dropouts, require a high school diploma for any athlete to be paid. As an aside, stop taxpayer funding of sports facilities. If professional sports want them, let them pay for it.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@DanH It may be difficult or impossible to convince women to give up their Title IX scholarships which are funded by men’s football and to a lesser extent men’s basketball.
Ed Watt (NYC)
There are only so many slots. A huge school can indeed afford to pay for a team of stars. 90% will never leave the bench. In any event, salary caps are certainly a possibility. These top athletes don't study anyway. They get made to order courses that demand not much more from the "student" than than the ability to sign their own name and legal residency. To claim that income of millions goes to pay their tuition is not true. Maybe if the coaches earned normal salaries, the cost of "operating expenses" would not be so high. As long as the coaches and athletic directors are getting the salaries of professional teams, and the athletes are playing at the level of pro teams, including injuries, and the players are bringing in the $$ of pro teams, who the heck are you to deny them at least some reasonable payment for their work?! As a grad student in a science department, I was paid a stipend/salary and got free tuition. I also signed away all rights to everything I might develop. I would get my name on all patents (if/when) and that's where it ends. Zero royalties, zero rights. The same can be done with sports. Tuition waver, a real salary. Endorsements, however, would go to the school and into a fund for remaining 325 schools. And the coaches would get paid academic salaries, not millions. Fair is fair, right? Ditto university presidents.
Guy William Molnar (Traverse City, MI)
My husband was wearing a sweatshirt with the name of "VAIL" Colorado across his chest (he had designed municipal signage for the town) when a graduate of a Division 1 football program asked him "That's that kind of meat, right?"
Will Eigo (Plano Tx!)
Which university ? Pray tell.
William Burgess Leavenworth (Searsmont, Maine)
@Guy William Molnar Clearly that football graduate was a vealedictorian.
Joseph marcucilli (Santa Clarita ca.)
So long as you avoid a bidding war. If you cap payments so all schools offer similar amounts of money then fine.
Boneisha (Atlanta GA)
The N.C.A.A. preserve its commitment to student-athletes? Don't make laugh. The N.C.A.A. was always there solely for the benefit of the schools, never for the benefit of the students.
EP (Expat In Africa)
The underlying assumption in your article is that college sports are necessary. Perhaps it’s better to move football and basketball out of the universities and have those athletes play in minor leagues. Baseball seems to do quite well with a minor leagues system. Soccer seems to do well with academies like La Masia in Barcelona and the academy program at Manchester United. Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne and the University of Rome provide a quality education without football and basketball. I played sports in college, but our society is changing. So let’s ask the big question...Are college sports necessary?
John Reid (Sebastopol, CA)
The most encouraging comment is that of Wisconsin’s Chancellor Blank. Paid athletes could be the catalyst for doing away with big time college sports altogether. They are a peculiar American phenomenon that distorts priorities, culture and admissions at schools large and small. Sports at college should about health and exercise for everyone.
PeteM (Flint, MI)
@John Reid if we get rid of "big-time" (which are only big time at certain schools) why not get rid of all sports? Rowers and gymnasts spend a huge number of hours practicing and competing as well, and if the priority is that every student be in the library those activities are just as distracting.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@John Reid Try convincing women to give up their Title IX scholarships.
Jonathan (Brooklyn)
For each sport there should be an established threshold of related income, above which the school would be required to pay the athletes participating in that sport and to treat them not as admitted students but as hired employees. The salary level should be set (and capped) as a percentage of that threshold figure; thus every school above the threshold would be able to afford the amount and there'd be no bidding wars for the best players. Finally, the paid teams would compete against each other only. It would be a true minor league for the pros, yet retain the school branding and the spirit that generates. I'm assuming that this would apply to football and basketball only but maybe there are a few other college sports that generate mega revenue for some schools. There are plenty of schools that don't generate big money from any of their teams yet have programs in a wide range of sports. So asking the schools that do rake in big bucks to allocate some of it to player salaries shouldn't jeopardize their other programs, as Mr. McDavis warns.
John Brown (Idaho)
Why are athletes who are recruited for their Athletic Skills given Scholarships ? Is that not paying them ? Why are students charged fees to support athletic teams whether they wish to join a team or go watch the teams play or not ? Colleges should have intramural teams and let the Pro's worry about the few athletes who will actually make the their teams. U.C. Berkeley built an very expensive athletic center to only be used by the athletes on the teams. Tens of Millions of dollars were given as "loans" to the Athletic Department to be paid back...well some time later... Most athletic teams lose money, close them down return to what college is supposed to be about - Academics.
mikeinfl (Bradenton,FL)
@John Brown Participation in athletics provides college students with invaluable life lessons. Watching college semi-pro teams with school logos emblazoned on their uniforms provides the same lessons as watching full time NFL, NBA & MLB etc teams play. 'College athletics' should be synonymous with intramurals.
Richard Gaylord (Chicago)
Paying Students to Play Would Ruin College Sports". i hope so.
Robert (Bay Area)
Me thinks the economics of NCAA sports already grossly distorted. Have a couple of conferences where it is a free fire zone for compensating football and basketball players. The rest of the college athletes can remain the students they are and the hypocrisy of the academy running nearly uncompensated minor leagues for the NFL and NBA will be acknowledged rather than winked at. Or reduce the big name coaches and NCAA execs to a living stipend and see how fast it falls apart.
Steven McCain (New York)
So you suggest things stay the same? Players get to wear brand name sneakers,that now fall apart, and coaches making Fortune 100 salaries while players play for the love of the game? Tickets for the recent Duke Game started at 3000 dollars.State sponsored bondage was supposed to have ended in 1865 when Lee surrendered to Grant in a court house in Virginia. I guess College Sports never got the Memo.
JD (Kansas City)
How about if all money available for coaches salaries and player stipends are pooled together then divide by the number of players and each gets a pro rata share perhaps adjusted for value of each person. It_ss absurd that the head coach gets $5 million and money from the shoe company wile athletes earning millions for the university get nothing. Maybe some or all University sports need to be scaled back to the level of club sports. Or, we can keep exlpoiting the top level players and keep paying the coaches and administrators exhorbitant levels of compensation. They will never want to give it up. It makes them rich and we'll liked!
hank (california)
Humanity will survive without college sports.
Mark (Las Vegas)
The payment these athletes receive comes in the form of media exposure. By the time they're ready for the pros, they're worth substantially more than they would be worth if hardly anyone had seen them play. We have talent shows, like America's Got Talent, where the entertainers aren't paid. Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood weren't paid to be on American Idol. But, look what happened. They're both fabulously rich now. Leave it up to the athletes to decide if college is worth it. But, don't pay them a penny for it.
Steven McCain (New York)
@Mark Why not pay the coaches the same way by media exposure? Media exposure is a great way to handle your debt?
Ed Watt (NYC)
@Mark Pay you the same way (for your first four year of employment) as well! If you apply yourself and do your job well - you'll get a recommendation and get a salary (for years 5+).
Utahn (NY)
@Mark Participants in American Idol do not risk chronic traumatic encephalopathy as do college football players. Perhaps such risks seem acceptable to individual athletes; however, colleges and universities should be in the business of improving minds rather than ruining brains. The current role of collegiate football as a farm team system for professional football is exploitative and morally reprehensible.
Alan D (New York)
It is simple- colleges and universities should focus on education, not running a side business with underpaid workers who happen to attend classes. If a school wants to offer games to their students- fine, but they don't have to be a part of a corrupt empire!
turbot (philadelphia)
The NFL and NBA should designate various Division I schools as "farm-teams", and pay for them. The "students" could wear their sponsoring team uniforms, and not attend classes. The rest can have teams that function like Division III, and be real student athletes. If football is putting an athletic department in the red, cut football. It would be better for student brains and knees.
Shawn O’Neal (Moscow, Idaho)
This column starts at a false pretense — that there would be a bidding war as opposed to an NCAA-mandated set amount — and then goes about meandering through an intellectually dishonest argument, all the while ignoring the elephant in the room — that there is no way football needs to consume the massive salary or scholarship load it currently holds. It ignores a million valid solutions (Think football could exist on, say, 60 instead of 85 scholarships?) in service of the idea that the status quo is the only reasonable solution. I suspect Mr. McDavis is well on his way to a well-paid position in the athletic hierarchy of some major university, conference, or, perhaps, the NCAA itself, where its dawdling president clears nearly $2.5 annually. There is really no way any ethical business would operate on the NCAA's model, so it's a real shame that our nation's universities seem more than happy to keep at it despite clear indications that it's a den of inequity.
PeteM (Flint, MI)
I realize I'm making an argument that is at least adjacent to "whatboutism", but I find it odd that in the modern academic economy the finances of college sports is one area that draws such a negative response. The institutional overhead of higher education has grown substantially in recent decades with everything from rapidly expanding administrative staffs to luxury dorms -- none of which directly impact a student's understanding of Shakespeare or the periodic table. College sports may be a distraction (as are student musicals, a capella groups etc.) from core academics but they also something that builds a connection with not just alumni but the larger region of taxpayers who, at least at state supported schools, provide direct financial support for the institution.
Ed Watt (NYC)
@PeteM As a taxpayer, I do not want to pay for sports that earn. If it earns - let it pay for itself. Same for taxpayer funding of NFL pro teams. They earn billions and taxpayers are expected to pay for their stadiums! Next - you'll expect taxpayer funded mansions for Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Besos. Ah ... wait - taxpayers *do* give these guys tax breaks ...
Will Eigo (Plano Tx!)
What taxes are you paying that go to the school’s sports programs ? I am against money in college athletics, but I miss connecting the dots here.
Phillip J. (NY, NY)
It seems no one agrees with the argument in this article, including me, but we should relax because I doubt this article will thwart the path of one day making the NCAA pay for the exploitation of players with top basketball and football programs. Also, this must be the only article that has an antithetical thesis to every other since Zion's shoe explosion, which goes to show you just how weak the argument is for not paying players. Justice will come in the courts, the market will open up and the NCAA and school's will make it work. Did Cody forget? These are institutions of higher learning and I'm sure they have enough smart around to manage paying players who are making them millions.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat-Gan, Israel)
Here's a suggestion nobody will agree with: Get rid of sports in college (apart from the just for fun non-competitive type), concentrate on study and academics and for future pro basketball and football players, set up a Minor League system and pay these athletes (as is done in baseball). Very few of these college athletes are Bill Bradleys.
pkarnsr (Lutherville, MD)
@Joshua Schwartz I agree completely. Also, McDavis doesn' explain how colleges can afford the $millions that head coaches get paid ( no bidding war?) dozens that make more than the presidents of their university.
PeteM (Flint, MI)
@Joshua Schwartz There is a minor league in basketball though less developed than in baseball, and for players who want to play in the NBA and are good enough they can leave after one year.
Drspock (New York)
It's not paying student "to play," it's paying them for playing. No student athlete who in a Division I school should have to sell jerseys just to have pizza money. Employ student athletes and pay them the same as other students who work at numerous jobs in the university. For grad students the rate is around $10 an hour. It's probably $7 n hour for undergrads. Athletes should get the higher amount. But since athletes during football and basketball season put an estimated 32 hour per week, that means they would earn about $4-$5,000 a season, maybe even more. No one will get rich off of this but neither will athletes who come from poor families have to do without, or succumb to the temptation of pocket money from agents. It would also make payment uniform across campus and across schools so that wealthy athletic programs couldn't out pay their rivals. Like any other student employee athletes would have to sign in and out for their hours worked and all records would be properly kept for tax purposes. Athletes should also be covered by workers comp so if an injury persists after graduation they would be eligible for some ongoing aid.
Andy (Tucson)
@Drspock, so let’s see, you propose paying the athletes $5,000 a season while the programs that employ them bring in four orders of magnitude more money. And the coach is generally the highest-paid public employee in the state. That seems rather unfair, as the reality is that being an athlete in a Division 1 football or basketball program is a full-time job, which precludes taking, for example, engineering courses. I realize that the Division 1 athletic programs are self-funded, in that revenue comes from the television deals and the clothing companies and the local car dealers and “boosters,” which means these programs can stand apart from the universities whose names they bear. So do that — make that separation real. Let the athletic programs license the universities’ names, for millions of dollars a year. Make the programs pay the universities millions of dollars in rent for facility space. And pay the workers for their labor which makes the whole enterprise possible.
Ed Watt (NYC)
@Andy Engineering? They don't take grade school level arithmetic! Division 1 Athletes' graduation quiz: _1. What is your first name? _2. What does the coach call you? _3. How tall are you? _4a. How many ounces in a pound? Or: _4b. How many grams in a kilogram?
mg (PDX)
Div 1 sports are corrosive and antithetical to a collegiate education and experience. Athletic programs flourish while academic programs wither, professors salaries stagnate, physical plants deteriorate, and tuition increases. D1 Men's Football and Basketball are nothing but no cost farm teams for their respective professional leagues. The schools should license and turn over their programs to the NFL and NBA and use those fees to fulfill their purpose in educating their students.
PeteM (Flint, MI)
@mg If you're saying that sports take revenue from academics ouldn't your argument apply with equal and greater force to sports that may cost less but that also generate almost no revenue such as swimming, field hockey etc. Should these be eliminated ?
Steve (Portland, Maine)
Sports have become the opiate for the masses in the U.S. Colleges and universities are a major source of this addiction. And some are behaving like cartels.
tanstaafl (Houston)
College sports are distorted now; they are ruined now. In fact, sports distorts our entire education system, including the K-12 public schools. I suppose you also believe that the 13th amendment ruined antebellum society?
Tom (Ohio)
I think the answer is very clear. If you're losing money on sports, stop spending so much on those sports. Why are you worried about "losing top talent". It's a University!! Why has that got anything to do with sports at all? If the students want to do intra-murals to stay healthy, great. Beyond that drop all of these expensive sports that are losing money for most schools. Stop paying coaches like CEOs. Maybe devote some resources to teaching for a change. Let basketball and football run their own development leagues. Having students play football with what we know about CTE today is just begging for decades of lawsuits in any case. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Stop wasting money on college sports!
Neal Obstat (Philadelphia)
College sports are already ruined by corruption. Until college athletes really become scholar-athletes, it's a corrupt joke. I have no interest at all in big-time college athletics.
New reader (New York)
Very few schools, including Division I schools, do well financially in their athletics programs. Most schools lose money and would do better to shut down expensive football programs among others. As it is now, many schools are "caught up" in programs they cannot afford.
JEB (Austin TX)
A national club system like that in every European country would be best. European clubs start on the level of youth AAU or Little League, and continue on up to the elite level. They turn out pretty good NBA players too.
Heather (Vine)
Obviously, individual universities couldn't sustain the payment of athletes, but couldn't the system? Why doesn't the NCAA fund the payments? Even if players aren't paid, the statistics about how many losers there are in the current system suggest that the NCAA should be doing more redistribution of wealth to the "have nots." The point of collegiate sports should not be for a few people and institutions to get rich. I have heartfelt allegiance to two of the biggest names in college sports, but I can see the rot. Level the playing field by leveling the money and lessen the corruption by lessening the enrichment.
Echenique Jose (Omaha NE)
Paying college students will ruin the NCAA pocket. Maybe if reporters continue to say that college players shouldn't be paying, the public opinion begins to believe it too. I guess that would be the NCAA executives' dream come true.
mlwindus (neverland)
Just abolish division 1 sports - the most corrupt institution in America. I love watching college basketball, football and softball. But let's have our colleges become institutions of higher learning.
Bob Garcia (Miami)
How about financially separating colleges from the teams, since at the top levels the players are not students who would normally attend the school. Make the teams independent affiliates without any educational requirements.
Neal Obstat (Philadelphia)
@Bob Garcia At least that would be honest.
kalix1 (earth)
The problem of some players being better compensated than others would be solved by a national centralized university pay system. Colleges would be required to turn over a set percentage of the revenue generated by their college teams. That money would then be allocated across the NCAA based on need and cost of living. As it is, students players from economically distressed communities often generate millions for colleges while watching close family members struggle. A coach told a story about a player who couldn't focus on a championship game because his mother was about to have her lights cut off. Under current NCAA rules, the coach's hands were tied. The NCAA punishes student who succumb to bribes and financial inducements, but creates an environment where that is bound to occur. Is it any wonder so many top college athletes choose to curtail their education in order to turn pro?
Karin Byars (NW Georgia)
Sports have no business in High School or College. In Europe there are clubs where young athletes are trained to polish their performance, compete and shine. My son joined a Crewing club, competed all over Europe and still got a great education.
Chris (boulder)
Students athletes are paid - paid in kind. The notion that the tuition waivers, exclusive dining services, exclusive tutoring services, stipends, etc. are not payment is bizarrely overlooked, or flippantly dismissed. If student athletes are paid, then revoke their scholarships and every other perk. Call them a college farm team and offer no degrees.
New reader (New York)
@Chris Most student athletes receive very little in terms of scholarship and other services. It is the exception and not the rule to receive all that you listed in your post. Most athletes are better off focusing on academics and not sports.
Nathaniel Brown (Edmonds, Washington)
There is another side to the coin. "Life sports," the one you can play until you're very old - tennis, cross-country skiing, gymnastics... these sports get cut so the Big Programs can afford multi-million dollar stadiums and six, or seven-figure coaches. Athletes in my sport, skiing, have to work to be earn enough to train and compete. (Except the big schools who give scholarships to foreign skiers.) Where's the education in that?
@Nathaniel Brown I would add to your list of 'life sports' : swimming - bicycling - roller skating - hiking .... and possibly more: activities which minimize contact, maximize cardio, are less likely to cause pulled muscles, broken bones, etc, are convenient and do not require absurdly expensive equipment or facilities .... oh, one more: sex: especially now, with legal cannibis ...
Incredibly simple--the right model is already in place with baseball. You want to play college ball, you play college ball. You don't want to play college ball, you sign a major league contract and work your way up through the minor leagues. Problem solved. These players are adults and should be free to make the same decisions as anyone else. Sure, allowing players to go pro at any age, regardless of education level (tennis, anyone?) will dilute the pool of talent in men's college football and basketball, but are fans really going to quit watching these sports as a result? Doesn't everyone already know that the level of play is inferior to that of professional leagues? Does the degree to which they're inferior make a difference? I doubt it. Do people refuse to watch high school football because the play isn't up to par w/ the Patriots/Steelers match-up on Sunday afternoon? Loyalties are loyalties and they'll survive. Let the players do what they want and what they're capable of. Anything less amounts to unlawful restriction and exploitation.
Larry Greenfield (New York City)
Most NFL and NBA players come from big public university programs which are taxpayer-supported. To ask the same taxpayers for additional support for player salaries ignores those who benefit most from these development costs, the NFL and NBA. To me a fairer system would have these leagues pay the salaries of the players, at least the ones that they eventually hire. They would thus be making at least some contribution to their player development costs rather than having taxpayers do so.
Sandy (Austin, Texas)
Stop all the madness: Why not make up college teams ONLY from students who are otherwise QUALIFIED TO ATTEND the college? Did you know that in the good old days, teams were selected from actual students?
Heather (Vine)
@Sandy even in the "good old days" recruiting was a thing.
Mike (Fullerton, Ca)
@Sandy Actually, sneaking in unqualified athletes into the student body is an American tradition that goes back over a hundred years.
Frank Langheinrich (Salt Lake City, UT)
This essentially argues that we should abuse and enslave labor for the amusement of the populous and enrichment of the Universities and their coaches. Why not do this in all industries?
true patriot (earth)
capital never wants to pay labor, yet it somehow always manages to pay management
Ed Watt (NYC)
@true patriot You must have gone to university (not as a semi pro athlete) somewhere!
BW (Atlanta)
If college athletics is SO unprofitable, how can schools afford to pay coaches $1 million+ salaries? The author's accounting methods seem to be the same as those of the film studios whose movies rake in millions for the studios and executives, yet never seem to make a "profit" for the actual creative talent. Soon he may be pleading the case of the poor impoverished NFL owners.
FJP (Philadelphia PA)
I want to see the accounting methodology underlying the claim that maybe as few as 20 Division I schools make money off athletics. are they comparing the cost of scholarships to the full sticker price of tuition and fees and housing, thus concluding the entire difference is a cost? But if schools didn't offer athletic scholarships, they wouldn't get an equivalent number of students paying full fare. At best, the right comparison is to the net price paid, after aid, to the average non-athlete student.
Terry (Sylvania, OH)
@FJP Look at the salaries and the costs of the non revenue sports and you will see that the accounting methods are probably real. Most small mid major DI schools raid the student fees to keep the athletic department running.
Robert (Manhattan)
Big money college sports are nothing more than a set of minor leagues that tap into the irrational emotion that comes with tying those teams to dear alma mater. It's brilliant and seductive marketing, but these are minor leagues nonetheless. If the mighty Buckeyes had the same players (but paid!) and coaches (paid far less than their current obscene salaries and sneaker fees!), but were the Columbus Cranes and played at the same skill level as now against, say, the Ann Arbor Aardvarks, would people care? Far less, one is willing to bet. The fact that it's been sanctified as wholesome, amateur college ball (even though it's hugely professional and lucrative for everyone but the players) has the fans hypnotized, and entices too many colleges to sell their souls and integrity to participate.
lester ostroy (Redondo Beach, CA)
Your right. The schools who want to win will pay top dollar for a select few athletes. That's the proper American way and right for the athletes. But maybe if those athletes are not prohibited from joining the NBA, those "schools" will be properly outbid by the professionals. The college coaches, athletic directors and the schools themselves are making millions off these kids while they get peanuts. Is that your idea of fairness?
Henry J. Raymond (Bloomington, IN)
What a strange kind of logic: the students have to sacrifice in order to save the adults from themselves; the consequence of competition is inevitably self-destruction. This piece is a mild version of many arguments for inequality over the centuries: women shouldn't get the vote; slave can't go free; workers shouldn't get minimum wage. Many schools haven't opted to play Division I sports; some of the schools that do may decide it's in their interest to give them up. As for paying students in revenue-generating sports, colleges and universities pay students who work in cafeterias that charge for food. It's not unreasonable to pay students who perform for sports teams that charge admission and sign TV contracts.
ZenBee (New York)
The honest sensible reform for College sparts is to let the colleges own a pro team and run it as a business to generate revenue for the academic programs and drop the hypocrisy of the scholar athlete pretension. May be there 50 or so institutions who could handle this and they would hire anyone they like without requiring them to be students. There should be a real dividend payment obligation to the general scholarship fund. The real colllege sports should be run by students and competition should be limited locally. A real student focused program in athletics would not need an organization like NCAA and the coaches would be faculty and compensated similarly.
Sandra (Australia)
@ZenBee I couldn't agree more! The real problems arise because top tier student athletes are expected (even encourage) to devote the same attention to training, maintaining fitness, and performance as professional athletes. You don't have to be Einstein to realize that this level of commitment to sport precludes any real dedication to academic pursuits.
Larry (St. Paul, MN)
Let's stop this charade and separate revenue sports from the universities. The Alabama Football Club can play the Ohio State Football Club using professional athletes who have no obligation to attend classes. They get salaries commensurate with their market value. Alumni can cheer for their favorite uniforms as can actual students who attend the universities of the same name. After their professional careers are over, those athletes have enough money, if they're careful, to attend whatever university they can get into. Money from TV rights goes to the football/basketball club with some rentals to the university for using their name and their faciltiies. Actual student-athletes can continue to attend classes and play their non-revenue sport. Hypocrisy gone. Some major universities will take a pay cut, but it will force them to concentrate on what is supposed to be their primary mission -- education-- rather than entertainment.
Lester Jackson (Seattle)
"In fact, among the roughly 350 athletic departments in the N.C.A.A.’s Division I, only about 24 schools have generated more revenue than expenses in recent years." This is a self-serving use of statistics D1 schools employ to justify their not paying players. Their expenses include massive stadium upgrades and opulent athletic facilities for revenue generating sports. Several media organizations have reported on this, but my favorite is Last Week Tonight. Search for The NCAA: Last Week Tonight on Youtube, or just google "new college stadiums.
Terry (Sylvania, OH)
@Lester Jackson I fully believe that only 24 schools make a profit on athletics. That would cover the top 5 schools in the "big 5 conferences", the rest probably don't break even. Even a bottom feeding SEC or Big 10 football schools still spend millions running a football program and are lucky to draw 20 or 30 thousand for 4 or 5 games. Women's basketball coaches in the MAC are making $200-300 K per year. Coaches, travel and facilities are a big money pit. That doesn't mean that players shouldn't be paid. They serve a very important function in making sure that all of those coaches with 6 and 7 figure salaries don't get fired.
New reader (New York)
@Terry That's probably an exaggerated number. My guess is far fewer actually generate positive cash flow from sports.
Jay (Florida)
Going to college should be about going to college for an education. Its sort of an old-fashioned, rigid, not politically correct point of view that is out of sync with reality. I don't care. The gateway to professional sports should be multi-faceted and a part of college but college should not be corrupted, influenced, side-tracked, and paid for by professional sports. Nor should any student athlete. The most important elements of college should education of young minds. Even young athletes should attend college to learn how to learn. They need to learn how to think critically and they need to prepare themselves mentally for the real world and develop the skills of the mind. In my view paying college athletes defeats the purpose of a college education. It teaches young people that you can rely on physical talent only and never mind academics. As long as you can perform you get paid. When your body wears out, or you get injured or someone else younger comes along, well, too bad. As time passes you may think maybe getting paid wasn't so smart after all. Maybe learning was more important than an early paycheck. A paycheck that was spent a long time ago.
Glenn Ribotsky (Queens)
Cody McDavis' whole bidding argument could be undermined with just two words: salary cap. But, of course, I'm not even addressing whether institutions of higher learning should be in the big time athletics should be in the big time athletics business to begin with. That issue is being more than adequately aired by the other commenters here.
Barry Ancona (New York NY)
Could we take a moment and acknowledge that everyone here is talking about NCAA Division I? This isn't all of sports. There are plenty of DIII schools, small colleges and some large and distinguished universities, where there are no athletic scholarships, the coaches are paid less than the professors (much less the presidents), and the athletes are actual full-time students in actual academic majors who like to play sports. It does exist.
Cfiverson (Cincinnati)
Not buying the thesis of this article for a second. If paying the athletes would ruin sports, what about the coaches? If the purity of the game is the issue, college coaches should be tenured faculty (no firing except for cause) and paid the same as the rest of a university's faculty. The athletes are the performers in high-dollar entertainment spectacles and they aren't even being paid as extras. If you really hate high dollar sports, stop letting basketball and football use colleges as their minor leagues. High school athletes should be able to sign pro contracts at graduation, and only those players who really want to attend college will end up in college sports.
cyrano (nyc/nc)
Neither of last year's NCAA finals teams had a one and done player. I'm a Duke alum and fan but I think the school has sold it's soul to the one-and-done devil. Coach K identifies as a "leader." How about taking the lead in recruiting four-players and teams.
cyrano (nyc/nc)
@cyrano (myself) typo correction: meant "four-year" players and teams ...
4Average Joe (usa)
Colleges don't make ANY profits off of sports, that's why. their coaches are paid 40 million dollars a year. They make it look like theirs no money, and then shut down Arts degrees to fund head bustin' football. Why not actually get some transparency as to net and gross $ coming in from the programs? Include all alumni treasuries, all broadcast and licensing fees. Then make sure that students in sports programs don't go hungry, get tutors, and get a 50k/yr stipend and free college.
JoJoCity (NYC)
College athletes should receive the equivalent of deferred compensation from a profit sharing plan based on the overall NCAA program profits. They should be able to receive an annuity starting 10 years after *graduation*, and the amounts should be based on playing time alone.
Glen (Texas)
"Paying Students to Pay Would Ruin College Sports" College is about the acquisition of knowledge, not providing a professional level of team sports. The former, in far too many cases, has been supplanted by the latter. The article's title should read: "Sports are Ruining College for Students Paying for Knowledge."
Big Cow (NYC)
I read a few dozen comments and it seems that people have missed a big point: a school can just choose not to participate. If they pay players and it's too onerous on the finances of the athletic department, there's no law that says you have to compete in that division! Look at the University of Chicago - they were a "football school" in the early 20th century but abandoned big time college sports in favor of academics. Any other school could also do this. It's the obvious solution.
uwteacher (colorado)
At issue are not the "minor" sports - they don't generate the millions that basketball and football do. The NCAA is a sad joke. The Division 1 schools are the farm teams for the NFL and the NBA. Why do you think students can declare for the draft before graduating? Ever hear of the "one and done" player? What is the function of the bowl games if not to be auditions for the NFL. In these two sports, with rare exception, the "student-athlete" is a myth.
expat (Japan)
If student athletes unionized nationally, they could all be paid the same salary, or a salary that differed by NCAA division. It would still be "out of bounds" for recruiters to offer financial incentives other than the agreed salary, tuition waivers, etc. when recruiting. The money could be held in escrow until the player leaves school, to reduce the influence it may immediately have. It is only the "major" college sports of football and basketball involved, and at Division 1 schools these are basically minor league programs for sports that lack their own farm system. Unfortunately, because of federal state cuts to universities (CA builds prisons instead to lock up those with limited educational opportunities) Schools have become highly dependent on this revenue stream, which undermines their academic missions and fundamental purpose. It is now too late in the game to change, but these schools should wean themselves off these sports programs, get back to academics and research, and let the NBA and the NFL start their own farm systems. This from someone who attended Carolina when Michael Jordan was playing college ball there.
Jay Mack (Somewhere In Swamps Of Jersey)
Who cares it it would change college sports? Not the players.
From Where I Sit (Gotham)
Has anyone considered how paying only certain (male) sports would comply with the requirements of Title 9 both in equal treatment/opportunity as well as the ability to maintain lower participation sports of both sexes?
The logic in this article makes no sense. No one is saying you have to pay anything. College sports is one of the few cases in America where someone can generate millions for an institution but does not get paid. The plain fact is 25 - 50 institutions will pay and the rest will pay nothing or very little. Schools that decide their excellence comes from the gridiron or court will pay; the rest will focus on education! Most of the kids in big time programs cannot attend classes and get anything out of school. They are focusing on the NFL or NBA. Many times they are from poor families. Pay them and let them focus on making it to the big time.
PeteM (Flint, MI)
Reading the comments below I'm clearly in the minority, but I think that the author makes some excellent points. While the (admittedly) absurd salaries of some college coaches and the revenue streams of a handful of prominent programs may make this hard to recognize the reality is that college sports are, overall, not profitable. Those that are are typically men's football and basketball and even then at a minority of the schools that compete. And the reason for that popularity isn't solely (or even largely) the quality of play exhibite by athletes as everyone knows the NBA and NFL perform at a higher level but the tradition or history. Part of that tradition and history is tied to the idea of the players as student-athletes. There's lots of hypocrisy built into that idea, but if we close down college sports and tell those athletes to play minor league ball (in many cases for less than the value of their scholarships) I doubt that most of those athletes would be better off.
Dave (CT)
I'm afraid that the author seriously misrepresents the situation. No one is talking about paying all college athletes, only football and basketball players. Why? Because college football and basketball are huge money-makers for lots and lots of schools, not just 20 or 30 of them, as the author misleadingly implies. Lacrosse, swimming, tennis, etc. cost far more than they bring in, which is why athletic programs overall are profitable for only relatively few universities. But this is totally beside the point. So why does the author bring it up? College football and basketball are big money-makers for tons of schools, make no mistake, and the kids who play them deserve to be paid. Personally, I'd be in favor of putting a cap on their max pay, one that is far, far lower than for professional athletes, but still gives college athletes some real income. That would be fair in my mind. By the way, I absolutely love college football.
New reader (New York)
@Dave Actually, most schools lose money even on basketball and football.
Matt (New York)
I'd have thought that a former student-athlete would actually have been more cognizant of the real issues related to the exploitation of college athletes, but here we are. The idea that people fight so vehemently for Nick Saban, Mike Krzyzewski, and others to collect millions of dollars from colleges to coach unpaid college athletes always struck me as weird until I realized that these are often the same people who are worried that taxing multi-millionaires will somehow have a negative effect on them. At this point it just feels like jealousy, that because nobody wanted to pay them to play a sport it's beyond the pale that someone they likely don't know personally and will have no direct contact with might get a check from a school that otherwise would give that money to a 26-year-old MBA grad trying to increase season ticket sales.
Adam (Chicago)
With all the money generated by Division I football and men's basketball, it's hard to see why players are not paid. They provide the key ingredients - talent and effort - while other parties reap the financial rewards. In terms of academics, try to imagine what benefits a Division I "one-and-done" freshman basketball player receives? The college doesn't offer a 1-year undergraduate program. The player would rather try to make it in the NBA than spend a year playing in college, but he can't sign until he's been out of high school for a year. In terms of potential inequities in recruiting because some schools will be able to pay athletes in the big money sports, that's kind of a moot point. The best players already gravitate to a fraction of the schools. Why are teams like Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc., always in the hunt for the Division I football championship? In terms of profit, does it matter that paying athletes might make major college sports less profitable for the schools? University boards do not answer to shareholders. Academic departments are not required to turn a profit. Many college athletic programs lose money, even in Division I. We fans enjoy the entertainment of watching the big game. Conferences, coaches, schools, broadcasters and sponsors participate in a multi-billion dollar industry. The players do the physical work, absorb the pressure, and assume the risk of injury. Pay them already.
Bob (Philadelphia, PA)
The Wyoming football coach has a base salary of $1.4 million but this article implies that $700K is an onerous amount to pay athletes as stipends. I think what would be fair is for NCAA I programs to pay an annual amount equal to coaching staff salaries, bonuses and health/pension benefits of those associated with injury sports into a long term endowment to pay for healthcare costs for uncovered costs of former athletes. Stop exploitation of young adults to benefit alumni fans, non-academic coaching staff, the entertainment/sports/shoe/apparel industries and now the gambling industry, legal and illegal. What a scam defended by the author to enrich primarily white billionaire owners of NFL/NBA franchises which have special deals with the government and courts to be exempt from taxes and labor and fair competition laws.
Ben (Chicago)
How can you make this argument and just ignore the bidding war that already occurs with the investment in facilities, school sponsored endorsement deals, high end travel arrangements.
Derek Flint (Los Angeles, California)
Colleges and universities already spend 10s of millions of dollars on special facilities for their pre-professional athletes. Some fly them around to away games on private jets. The University of Wyoming is never going to be able to offer the perks that a Duke or Ohio State can offer to its basketball and football players. The only people not making money off these sports events are the players who produce the actual product.
expat (Japan)
Call it the Facebook business model...
Darth Vader (Cyberspace)
The entire concept of amateur college athletics is built on a false basis. In every other field of study (e.g., physics), students are allowed to earn money working in their chosen profession, at a salary befitting their skill. How is football different? McDavis' argument that most college athletic programs operate at a loss ignores the fact that their main purpose is to maintain alumni engagement and raise donation dollars. Why else would colleges continue to subsidize them?
Sean (Greenwich)
"The 30 largest universities in the country each routinely generate annual revenues exceeding $100 million from sports, but according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most of those revenues are spent covering operating expenses for the school’s athletic programs and paying tuition for their student-athletes." Wrong. The $100 million goes to pay outrageous salaries to football coaches. The minor sports cost nothing to run. And tuition is a non-cash item: it doesn't cost anything to put one more body in a chair in a large lecture hall. So the accounting is deliberately dishonest. Let the NFL and NBA create minor league teams, draft players out of high school, and pay them real salaries. If that leads to the elimination of big-time college sports, great! We'll watch the stars on the minor league teams. Let's stop perverting our universities with this immoral system in which everyone makes huge money, except the athletes themselves. Get rid of it!
@Sean Due to the geographic expansion of conferences costs to run the non revenue "minor" sports and those are men's basketball and football have risen significantly. The minor sports are not inexpensive and are subsidized by the big 2. Title IX demands equality of opportunity and does expect equal treatment in facilities and amenities for student athletes. There's a reason the Power 5 conferences now dominate many a non revenue sport. They have the money from their tv deals to spread the wealth.
@Sean This, of course, is the best idea. Remove the stupid rules about when you can work in the NBA. You should be able to work at 18 with no prior experience or any age if you have a HS diploma. Its one thing to make sure people get a HS diploma, but why go thru the farce of pretending these players get anything out of college other than sports experience?
Mike Bonnell (Montreal, Canada)
What is not mentioned, is that the minute a student athlete is injured to the point of not being able to continue pursuing his/her sport - they lose their scholarships, etc. Also not mentioned is that some pro organizations prevent players from going directly from high school to pro. Thereby forcing them to take the risk playing and getting injured in college. The worst is the usual, all-or-nothing false dichotomy. There's nothing preventing the athletes from making a small wage, getting guaranteed full term scholarships, room and board as well as all meals, a stipend for clothes and travel. This would not translate to millions per athlete. And it would be a bit more fair than the slave system currently in place.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Mike Bonnell No college athlete loses their scholarship due to injury. Name at least one.
Mike Bonnell (Montreal, Canada)
@Shamrock Kyle Hardrick. There's one, a famous one. And there have been plenty more.
Alan (Los Angeles)
Why do players in revenue-generating sports, like football and basketball, have to subsidize sports in the school that lose money? If you're saying paying a basketball player what he's worth means you have less money for a volleyball player, so what? Why should the volleyball player get to ride off the efforts of the basketball player? It is not required that there be one athletic department in a school under which all sports all run. You can have the revenue-generating sports be in their own department and non-revenue be in another. The school can then determine how many money-losing sports it wants to pay for.
Wilson P (DFW)
Colleges and universities are already paying college athletes with an athletic scholarship. Their compensation has plateaued while the schools, the conferences, the NCAA and the corporate sponsors all reap increasing financial rewards. This will continue as long as no one represents the best interests of the players. Big time football and basketball games are big time entertainment, a business for everyone but the 18-22 year olds who make it possible. The inequality is even more pronounced when a team wins a championship. Hefty cash bonuses for the coaches. Hats and t shirts for the players. Maybe they should unionize.
Garrick (Portland, Oregon)
Is it just me or did this opinion piece only re-enforce how deeply corrupt and exploitive the current system is? Maybe schools that can't afford to run a for-profit sports program could simply get back to the job of educating instead?
Roy Cal (Charlotte)
It's not about playing students to play. At the top, it's about men and women who are pretending to be students and playing sports for the students and alumni to cheer for, rally around, etc., "for their school." So, it's like minor league training for the pros, and academia (e.g., Duke U., UNC-CH, Gonzaga U., U. of Va., Michigan State, etc.) and the NFL, NBA, and maybe other pro leagues, need to get together and figure out how academia can sponsor minor league teams, with reasonable pay for their players, who the students can cheer for and feel good about being students at the schools sponsoring the teams.
Richard Julie (Pennsylvania)
Defenders of slavery argued that the sudden end to the slave economy would have had a profound and killing economic impact in the South where reliance on slave labor was the foundation of their economy. The cotton economy would collapse. The tobacco crop would dry in the fields. Rice would cease being profitable.
deBlacksmith (Brasstown, NC)
Just why do we need college "professional" sports? The rest of the world seems to do just fine, maybe much better, without them. I know that colleges love the money - but what does it have to do with "higher" education?
Tom W (WA)
It is time to consider ending college athletics programs that feed the major leagues like farm teams. Special programs for athletes (Beverage Management, anyone?) and astronomically expensive special facilities and guaranteed passing grades and sky-high coach salaries and product endorsement fees, etc. are all inimical to the interests of higher education. The University of California's Clark Kerr joked that a college president's job was focused on providing athletics for alumni, sex for students, and parking for faculty. Athletics programs have increasingly taken over universities and colleges. While budgets for art, and languages, and music, and philosophy are being whittled away at or eliminated entirely at campuses around the US, athletic programs grow and grow. Now you can watch games between teams you've never heard of, all of them with expensive professional athletic uniforms and equipment. It's time to call college athletics what many of them are: farm clubs for professional sports. End college athletics that exist primarily to feed professional teams and let the NFL, NBA, NHL,and MLB pay for their own talent development.
David (Vermont)
@Tom W and let the athletes be compensated for their talent and hard work!
Stan Vegar (San Diego)
Same tired arguments, speculation, and narrow mindedness given by university presidents and other executives who have exploited the talent and enriched themselves for decades. Student athletes are required to give up in perpetuity any rights or claims to their image etc or they are barred from competing. In other words, if you wish to play college sports, any sport, you must give all rights or opportunities to make a dime. Last year the NCAA sold the rights to March Madness for nearly $800 million. The athletes cut? ZERO. My hope is this, 30 minutes before tip off in this year’s NCAA final, the athletes walk off the floor and demand compensation or the game is off.
Sean (Oregon)
Unless ALL student athletes were given the SAME compensation package.
Kurt (Kenosha)
If you took Nick Sabens $8 million dollar salary and spread it out among his 100 players each player would make $80,000 each per year. $80k!
Distort the economics of college sports? The economics of college sports is nothing but a pile of distortions. Any sort of market system would REMOVE distortions. There would be other condequences, yes, but not distortions. Believing in the current system requires a willing suspension of thought regarding the definitions of "student", "amateur", "compensation", and "payment". Just because you like the current system does not mean it makes sense for the employees or even the institutions involved. There is a certain segment (ADs, coaches, bowl selection committees, etc) making out like hogs slurping at the public trough and heavily subsidized by certain athletes working at WELL below market rates. None of this would be possible without the anti-trust exemption for the NFL and NBA, however, which is probably the next place these lawsuits go. At least the MLB and NHL (and worldwide soccer) have existing farm systems, lower leagues, etc paid for by the clubs themselves not by supposed higher learning instituions. There are still amateurs, but those are actual amateurs.
Jack be Quick (Albany)
How can college sports be more ruined?
gratis (Colorado)
Good. How College sports are run is a travesty.
GreggMorris (Hunter College)
Nonsense, Cody J. McDavis. And baloney too. Equitable economic and monetary strategies for compensating college athletes for making their coaches rich, rich, rich and their colleges rich, rich, rich shouldn't be that difficult to create. It also doesn't have to all be about salaries. They do, however, have to be TRANSPARENT. Plus, I believe there is an unfathomable pool of talent out there and not your so-called "few" that will allow certain rich colleges to pay top dollar to grab up the "few" best of the best. A little imagination could go far. – That's what this former Cornell U. b-ball captain, MVP, Hall of Famer and assistant coach believes.
Jay David (NM)
Yes, let's keep ripping off young men, most of whom don't make it to the pros, most of whom don't get a real education, to keep universities wading in cash. To pay student-athletes would "ruin" this.
Ellis6 (Sequim, WA)
@Jay David "...most of whom don't get a real education..." Whose fault is that?
Beth D. (Alabama)
Most everything is subject to evolution. Sometimes evolution comes in the form of improvement, sometimes in extinction. Trying to continue to be what you have always been leads to you ceasing to be.
Michael Hogan (Georges Mills, NH)
Finally, a piece on this issue by someone talking sense. The points in this piece are so plainly obviousit is mind-bogglimg that someone needs to write it at all, much less that we’ve had to wait so lomg for tgat to happen. Many of those proposing to let elite college athletes be paid as professionals are motivated not by some high-minded concern for “fairness” - otherwise they’d have thought about the points made here a long time ago - but by their desire to preserve the sickening, money-drenched, commercialized charade college basketball (and football) have become. The solution is to shovel the money to a few elite players? Who do they think they’re kidding? Almost everyone, apparently, including some NYT soorts writers who should know better.
Mike Espy (Flint)
Of Course! We can't limit the Million Dollar salaries of those Poor Privileged White Male NCAA Administrators! They would have to go out and work for a living. Instead of living off the free labor of those College athletes. Oh, the Humanity!
Cassandra (Arizona)
They are semi-pros: why not pay them. The schools should also do away with the ridiculous "academic eligibility" requirements which only devalue the bachelor's degree.
NickN (Seattle)
This is a ludicrous argument. Given that some coaches are much better than others, as shown in salaries, isn't it unfair to secondary colleges to allow coaches get paid large amount of money. Shouldn't the coaches work for free, perhaps with graduate school tuition thrown in for payment?
John E (Miami)
How much does Coach K make? Saban?
Steve Lightner (Encinitas, Ca)
College sports has been ruined for a long time taking higher education with it. So pay the kids.
David (Major)
The author misses the forest for a single tree.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
The idea that the very top athletes in basketball and football don’t get paid under the table by “boosters” is willfully naive. How do most of these kids afford to drive monster SUVs, anyway, when they can’t even hold a work-study job?
W in the Middle (NY State)
Spot on... Next step would be to stop paying coaches, and just give them room and board and a chauffeured golf cart... Currently, a handful of programs pay top dollar for a select few coaches, while other schools get caught up in a bidding war they can’t afford... For those who think that free room and board and transportation are insufficient compensation for coaching sports, there are other options... They could coach in the NBA’s developmental league, for example...
Clem Cooper (Boston, MA)
Perfect response
Ohana (Bellevue, WA)
@W in the Middle Actually, I think limiting pay for coaches is a great idea. Cap coach pay at median professor pay. And everything else needed to demonetize college sports.
Eric (Farmington, CT)
There is no other place in America where we would expect workers to generate millions of dollars in revenue for their industry and not receive a dollar of pay in return. Is it a coincidence that a majority of these phenomenal athletes are African-American?
Miguel (Chicago IL)
@Eric this assumes they generate millions in revenue. Most schools have hundreds of student athletes including many in sports which are not money makers. A Duke student, for example, would get about $288K (tax free btw) in tuition and room/board over 4 years. Not shabby. Many schools, like Big Ten founder Purdue, use zero student or tax dollars to support sports programs. Students who complain about their free rides need not play.
Kohl (Ohio)
@Eric You do realize that women's athletic scholarships are subsidized by the revenue football programs bring in right? The value of a scholarship and the benefits that come with it are worth over $100k/year.
This article is an example of pure nonsense. Here is some real logic. Colleges should not be allowed to pay HUGE salaries to coaches and sports staff far fsr more than teaching staff OR allow them to take kickbacks from sportswear companies.
Kohl (Ohio)
@AH2 Why? Just because you think they should make less money? Are you aware of how those salaries are funded? Those coaches more than pay for themselves through the revenue the programs they lead bring in. Additionally, donors specifically endow coaches salaries. There's nothing wrong with paying someone $5mm/year if they are generating over $50mm/year.
Pauly K (Shorewood)
@Kohl, Sure, but you might want to consider that the five star athletes are key to a great coach. It doesn't hurt that the power conferences have the best chance to recruit talent. What is the true value of the coach in relation to the institution itself? Many coaches appear to be high-strung, needy, self-absorbed celebrities. Do they really build on the academic prestige of a university? I doubt it.
Kohl (Ohio)
@Pauly K There a numerous articles showing that the profile of students at Alabama has gone way up since Saban has gotten there.
Lefthalfbach (Philadelphia)
College football is really too dangerous to be played. Bigtime College football is nothing more than an extended tryout for the NFL. However, Big- time college basketball is the real joke with the "...One-and-Done Program....". many years ago a Wharton Professor at Penn wrote a letter to the school paper. He argued that the only true amatuer team on campus was the Rugby Club because it consisted of young gentlemen accepted at Penn on their academic merits, who organized their own team and competitions and who invited the visitors back to campus for a few drinks after the match. the professor had a point.
Matt (Saratoga)
First, as a matter of fairness, the students who play sports should be compensated as everyone else in the college sports food chain is. Second, the author is wrong as to what the result will be. A small number of schools will pay to get the best athletes and a new conference will be formed. It will be a lot like the SEC but with more teams. All the other colleges will compete in conferences where the students are not paid.
Joe B. (Center City)
Great endorsement of chattel slavery. You had to go to law school for that?
Horace (Detroit)
Getting rid of slavery would ruin the cotton economy too.
Jay David (NM)
The title is fantastic. It's like saying, "Running pedophiles of the priesthood would RUIN the Catholic priesthood."
Pilot (Denton, Texas)
Title Nine destroyed sports in college.
WL (Albany, NY)
So what? If we free slaves, the plantations will fail.
Chris Clark (Massachusetts)
This is really not very complicated. First, college is not free and costs roughly $50-60,000 a year. Assuming a player stays for 4 years and graduates without debt, that is a significant payment of its own. Add to that the remarkable experiences that college athletes have as they travel (free) and see areas of the country that they would likely never see, an experience that is difficult if not impossible to assign a value. They are given individual attention by trainers, nutritionists, counselors and individual tutoring as needed. For the 99% of student athletes that will not become professional athletes, what in the world is the problem with this? The solution for the phenoms who can be reasonably predicted to make a living as an athlete is to require that the schools carry a future earnings insurance policy for them in case they experience a potentially career ending injury, and to guarantee a free course of study for all those athletes who leave school early. Of course there are many serious problems with college athletics, but if you follow a team, watch them on TV or attend games or buy merchandise, look in the mirror because you are part of the problem.
@Chris Clark So they are "compensated" but can't be "paid"? You realize you just made the athletes argument for them?
Chris (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
TV already "ruined" college sports. The subhead explains precisely the current situation: "A handful of programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes, while other schools would get caught up in a bidding war they couldn’t afford." So the only question is, should we pay the people (the athletes) who produce this great revenue?
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Chris TV money gives thousands upon thousands of young minorities the chance at a college education. I think it’s a good thing. It certainly allowed me to graduate debt free as the first in my family to go to college.
Chris (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
@Shamrock No, the scholarship from the university pays the way for athletes. The TV money all goes to the university and coaches' pockets. You do the work, they get paid. By the way, you are only valuable to them if you are healthy and producing for them.
xtrimmo (California)
Too late, college sports are already ruined by money, to wit the outrageous salaries of some of the coaches. A quick look to Europe would show that universities are for educating young people, not to turn them into professional athletes. There is a reason that more peopel of all ages actively participate in sports in Europe than the US.
Will Eigo (Plano Tx!)
Keep the money out. Nobody is compelled to play in universities. It is probable , if sports become less profitable for the schools, the array of men’s and ladies’ sports will wither. The vast majority of true student-athletes won’t have a sporting experience during their undergraduate years.
Lefthalfbach (Philadelphia)
@Will Eigo People are forced to play in universities if they want a shot at the NFL or NBA. As for the "...minor sports..." allegedly funded by profits from the "...bigtime sports..."? Those sports actually do not cost that much money. Also, most college students go thru their college years without being on a team.
Shar (Atlanta)
Clearly the current system is unfair to everyone, whether they are the haves or the have nots. Revenue sports - primarily football and basketball, but a few others depending on the school - are used by the sponsoring institution for, yes, revenue. The balance sheets may not show a profit but there clearly is one. The alumni donations, the collateral revenues, the effect on student recruitment and on alumni loyalty are hugely affected by the exposure of the 'big' sports. The affect on the bottom line is so huge that administrations warp their spending priorities, look the other way at academic failures, excuse cheating and effectively undermine the academic reputation of the school and devalue the degree for 'real' students. This is all at taxpayer expense. The umbrella of the university covers the tidal wave of athletic money so that not only do the workers not get paid, the beneficiaries don't pay tax. This has to stop. Pay the players. Evaluate the programs against the mission of the university: If the athletes can't qualify independently for admission, if the staffs are paid well outside the faculty pay scale, if the spending per student is far outside the institution's average, if the athletes don't graduate at comparable levels, then the program is not part of the university. It is a business. Let them pay the schools royalties for use of the names. Tax revenues and end tax exemptions for donations and properties.
Mike McShane (Dallas TX)
Free tuition, room, board and all NCAA players get a flat payment 25k year 1, 50k year 2, 100k year 3, and 200k year 4 if they graduate. Doesn’t matter where you go, all get the same payout.
JB (Brooklyn)
college sports were ruined a long time ago. very few opportunities for most students to participate. very few opportunities for athletes to really study.
Carter (Century City)
Student athletes in programs that generate big dollars should get a free tuition and board to be collected at anytime in their lifetime and a pension to be drawn on once they become 65 years of age.
E R (Portland, OR)
I am surprised so many commentators are missing the most obvious benefit the NCAA gives to "student" athletes, other than tuition/room and board, *exposure*. College athletes have the option of playing in professional leagues in the US or overseas instead of playing college athletics. In the sport of basketball, except for a handful of exceptions (where the recruit was highly unlikely to qualify to play NCAA basketball), every single player has elected to play NCAA basketball. Why would that be? Because there is substantial value in the exposure the athletes receive playing on national television. Receiving a hypothetical $1M for one year playing overseas is outweighed by the value of the exposure the players receive playing college basketball. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest the exposure has no real value to the players. If it had no value, many of the top recruits would be playing overseas.
Juh CLU (Monte Sereno, CA.)
"For the have-not universities, however, to continue operating means relying on millions of dollars in debt, funding from their main campus and student fees." It's time for a profit-sharing scheme that puts athletes at all schools first, especially for tuition.
Douglas Bielenberg (Clemson SC)
The real losers would likely be coaches salaries. Coaches are the ones rewarded for performance because the players cannot be rewarded. Once both are rewarded from the same profits coaches will likely have to take less. If market forces drive athlete recruiting then coaches will want to go where good players are playing. Could easily be no net impact.
David Hillsgrove (Mooresville NC)
Such a naive view. Student athlete is a term coined to make those most affected by the abuse feel better. The plantation atmosphere is palpable and if scholarship athletes exercised their true power of withholding services until fairly compensated the system of exploitation would reveal itself in a matter of days. I hope one day this will happen.
Mark (PDX)
Why is everyone ignoring creative solutions? Cash isn't the only form of compensation, let the colleges pool resources to get athletes post-college healthcare for injuries sustained while playing. Also help get athletes additional education and career counseling so they have something to fall back on when turning pro is not feasible.
Eric (Dover, NH)
Clearly, Mr. McDavis has no problem with university athletic budgets riding on the backs of its minimally compensated basketball and football players. If he had been more than just a bench warmer he might have more empathy to those actually being exploited for their talents.
true patriot (earth)
everyone except the students is making money millions of dollars are pocketed at every step of the way -- except by students why would anyone argue that people should work for free when others are profiting from their labor?
Sam Taube (Stony Brook)
The NCAA is basically a fraudulent organization that benefits the colleges, the coaches, vendors, and itself at the expense of the students who are exploited both economically and educationally. To whom is the NCAA accountable? How did it establish itself as the arbiter of college sports. Even a little research will show that it is as unsubstantial as the Wizard of Oz. Billions are being made on the back of students, many of whom do not even receive a true college education. Work with out pay has had antecedents in our country's history. It is time to end this outrage that is being perpetuated under the guise of sport.
Hank Scorpio (westchester)
A few months ago I was watching a Maryland home football game. In the background I noticed an enormous HD tv screen. Maryland is terrible at football. That TV could probably cover all the travel costs for the wrestling team, the swim team, and the track team if the hadn't joined a conference where all their opponents are in the midwest. Maryland and Nebraska are in the same conference. The whole system needs to be destroyed and restarted without basketball and football.
GK (Pa.)
i guess if student athletes got paid, there might not be enough leftover in school budgets for those lavish multi-million dollar contracts for college coaches. That's bad?
Dean (Denver)
Of course most college athletic programs are not profitable...they were never originally expected to be (just like high school sports.). One way to think about this problem is to consider a scenario where athletic departments didn’t exist. If schools then decided they wanted to set up athletics programs, how would they go about would they fund it? Student tuition? Boosters? TV deals?
exxtra (cold spring harbor)
SO LET IT BE RUINED. Right now it's just a business that exploits athletically talented students - and all too often doesn't even provide them with an education.
Richard (Houston)
Poor colleges, having to pay players, oh the misery. How tragic! /s When some athletes are at their most valuable, they are forbidden from making money on top of their scholarship. The fearmongering seems to come from those who are profiting most under the current system. Let the market figure it out, with some regulations to protect the workers (aka athletes). These kids worked their tails off to get on the team. Let them earn whatever they can get, whether it's a 1 year or 21 year career.
Shamrock (Westfield)
First fact based sensible article I have ever read. The author is the only person smart enough to inform the reader that the overwhelming number of athletic departments operate at a loss. They are subsidized by the school. There is no profit to distribute.
Mary (Michigan)
@Shamrock That may be true for athletic departments as a whole, but that does not help the individual athletes who risk their careers for no pay with little or no choice. The system that benefits everyone but the athletes generating the revenue makes no sense.
DStrott (Boston)
@Shamrock So scale back the athletic department to make it affordable. Everyone else at the school is there for an education. Entertainment can be had outside of the school budget.
Xoxarle (Tampa)
Soccer, by far the most popular sport on the planet, doesn’t infect higher institutes of learning with faux student athletes. The pipeline is high school to pro teams. Students go to colleges to learn from professors. Athletes go to sports complexes to train under coaches. The two shouldn’t mix, it only results in exploitation, corruption and accommodation.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
Um, I kinda think this boat has sailed. It has been a long time since sporst were part of the college experience. Now its just entertainment and spectacle.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
Good. Ruin it. Better to pay the athletes than the coaches. Let the athletes go pro, straight out of high school, paid whatever their skills are worth in professional minor leagues. Colleges should not be in the minor league sports business. Genuine student-athletes can play intramurally. Let the colleges go back to education.
mike (Brooklyn)
The big schools and the NFL and NBA collude to run minor leagues with 0 compensation for employees. Webster's calls working for $0 slavery. Meanwhile the fig leaf of free schooling is Trumpian reality: try skipping practice to study or enrolling in a real demanding course and watch your scholarship be withdrawn. No sympathy for this author.
DaveD (Wisconsin)
Coaches are well paid. Some are obcenely well paid. There's a profitable bidding war for the best ones. This marketplace does not appear to have ruined college coaches and their athletic departments. Oh but it will ruin student teams of all kinds. Let non-revenue sports play as intramural teams. Let their players, you know, study for degrees.
Mike (Arizona)
Major League Baseball proves the fallacy of this article. MLB has a farm system of Minor League teams and franchises. Athletes in this farm system are categorized in tiers by capability: AAA, AA, A, etc. The athletes get paid and fans see games at very affordable prices. When these players are up to MLB caliber they are called up to the big leagues. Whether it's the MLB or farm system, make no mistake -- it's a professional sports operation. NBA can do the same, rent the arenas from the colleges, sell the tickets, collect the revenues, pay the players and coaches, but by all means get colleges out of the business of running what is a de facto professional sports operation. And stop ripping off young basketball and football players who are used, abused and discarded with useless degrees. Time for college athletes to have their own #MeToo movement.
Justin (CT)
And the indentured servitude we have now is better how?
Beyond Repair (NYC)
Shouldn't college kids spend their time with books studying a science? This athletes business is ridiculous. By all means, offer a sports program and steamed veggies to your student body (heaven knows we need to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle...). But leave it at that.
antiquelt (aztec,nm)
Paying elite coaches mega contracts and having those elite coaches sign mega shoes deals for themselves has corrupted college sports!
Concerned Citizen (Everywhere)
good, they should be ruined? its gross to begin with. all of this stuff should be privatized and made into clubs. universities shouldn't be spending tuition money on this, states shouldn't be paying coaches the way they do. but oh no muh amateur sports machine to beat the soviets with or whatever ok fella. at the end of the day this is about the personal entertainment entitlement of white guys to like their colleges sports teams and this column at least spells that out pretty clearly. the fact that this is the argument that always wins is so depressing its frankly incredible
Moehoward (The Final Prophet)
Maybe they need to be ruined.
Kevin Dailey (Greenpoint)
People misusing the phrase "free education" should not be allowed to write columns for The NY Times! There is nothing free about the players' educations. It's an arcane barter system with the universities and the NCAA clearly getting the better part of the deal.
riley2 (norcal)
Let college sports be ruined. If this is the first step toward returning academic institutions to their original goal - educating people - then it would be a good thing.
Mmm (Nyc)
Paying college student athletes through a free-agency system is the fastest way to ruin college athletics. Ruin. Forever. The only kind of payment system I would support would be an equal stipend to each NCAA athlete from gymnasts to swimmers to football players: say $3500 a season. But like the author, I'd be concerned about where that money would come from in an age of skyrocketing tuition. Anything that tries to replicate a free market system will necessarily involve bidding wars and binding contracts, and with it agents, lawyers, corporate sponsorships, trades, large market domination of smaller markets, etc. It will just turn the NCAA into a pro league. We already have pro leagues. And they are worse than college sports because money is the primary driver. Now if you are concerned that college basketball players and football players shouldn't have to play for free, I'd ask you of your opinion about college swimmers and high jumpers--why are they "forced" to play for free? Amateurism in sports is something to cherish and preserve. Please don't ruin in.
Wilson P (DFW)
@Mmm According to the recent NCAA survey, Division I College football and basketball players average over forty hours a week on their sport. Even if the swimmers and high jumpers spent as much time, they don’t generate anywhere near the same amount of tickets sales and revenue because so few people watch them. It’s more likely the swim team and the track team are funded by an athletic department heavily dependent on the revenue generated by the “major sports.”
Zelda (DelMar, CA)
Saying that all the athletic revenue is spent running the athletic program ignores how easy it is to reduce one department's revenue. Parking and concession sales aren't athletic department revenue, they're arena revenue. Revenue from merchandise sales isn't athletic revenue, it's bookstore revenue, or just general university revenue. Same with licensing fees from the companies that make the merchandise, general university revenue, not athletic department revenue. Meanwhile, the players aren't allowed to earn any money, even apart from their position on the team. They can't have any job. Come from a poor family and need clothes, shoes, airfare to and from school? Guess mom better work some floor-scrubbing OT. This is to avoid the horror of a sponsor giving an athlete a no-show job or even an actual job. No show classes are fine but any form of job would ruin the sanctity of college sports.
Willy (Michigan)
The premise of this column is wrong. The top athletes in DI are not students. "Student-athlete" is an euphemism put out by the NCAA as cover for their financial operation. As athletes performing for the school, they should be paid. If they want to get an education, they can enroll and pay for it out if their earnings. Also, the idea that football and basketball pay for minor sports is suspect, as DI athletic programs don't normally publish detailed budgets which could verify this.
Robert Holmen (Dallas)
Suppose it did ruin college sports? Why is it desirable for colleges... sometimes known as educational institutions... to compete at sports? To my knowledge, none of them give degrees in Football or Basketball. What part of their educational mission are they fulfilling by excelling in football and basketball? They aren't helping the elite players, who rarely graduate with a useful degree.
Will (Berkeley CA)
Athletics should be de-coupled from education entirely. If the NCAA is going to function like a minor professional league, which it does for the NBA and NFL, then it should be a professional league. The current system makes a small percentage of individuals inconceivable amounts of money, at the expense of players who are being exploited and students who are made to bankroll athletic departments. If the collegiate sports were outlawed tomorrow, our society would be much better off because of it.
David Bible (Houston)
Football players put their body on the line at practice and during games that make money for the school. They have to provide their own health insurance to cover injuries. This issue should also be addressed.
Mark (PDX)
@David Bible Yes, that's a more important issue then a salary. Players should get medical care after college for injuries sustained during their playing days AND they should get continued job, career and educational counseling and support
Joe (Mesa, Arizona)
The status quo is not an answer. All of basketball has been corrupted by money. There is scant teamwork in the NCAA Division l ranks, awash with money from top to bottom. Big time high school players are accustomed to bribes from A.A.U. teams, summer leagues and shoe companies. Elite players leave college early for the NBA, Europe, and China. As a result, there has never been poorer play in the NCAA, and also the NBA where there are more bad teams than ever - equipped with players immature or badly skilled in fundamentals. Basketball is awash in pelf and mammon. To a great extent, there should be revenue sharing among all NCAA teams- analogous to the NFL revenue sharing. A university would not have to share all of its money, but a good percentage of it. The NCAA should disperse the tournament money equally. From there the top eight players from each squad would each receive a standard stipend of tens of thousands of dollars. The other non-paid players would receive a scholarship. They would compete for bonus money like walk-on players do now for scholarships. There should also a loosening of the amateur rules. If a player cannot hack it in the NBA, he should be allowed to play for a university without a stipend. Kyler Murray, John Elway, and hundreds of others received tens of thousands to play pro baseball, and returned to campus to play college football. A semipermeable membrane between the NCAA and NBA would not be that different.
Douglas Weil (Chevy Chase, MD & Nyon, Switzerland)
Scholarship athletes are already "paid to play". The value of a 4-year scholarship is $120,000 at a state university to $250,000 at a private university like Duke. Additionally, Zion Williamson is coached by the best coaching staff, has access to the best trainers, has access to the best facilities, competition, and is provided with health care -- all of which he and virtually every other scholarship athlete could almost certainly not afford if they had to pay for it. Not every school is on TV as often as Duke, but a lot of college basketball and college football is televised, generating publicity and excitement for the small percentage of college athletes who will eventually be drafted and play ball in the NBA or the NFL. Zion Williamson will sign endorsement deals worth millions of dollars as soon as he enters the draft. Maybe without the publicity generated by playing college ball he would still receive some offers for endorsements but certainly not what he will receive after a year of playing ball for Duke. And for many scholarship athletes, long before they have shown up on campus, they have benefited by skipping to the head of the line for college admissions. Duke offers admission to 10% of the people who apply. Admission is easier when Coach K is talking to admissions. A four-year college degree is worth about $1 million / year over a high school diploma. Virtually no scholarship athlete plays professional ball but there is still that $1 million.
Winston (Boston)
@Douglas Weil: A degree in Recreation is no match for one in biology, computer science or engineering. I don't know what's Zion's major, but you can bet your last dollar, its not one of the ones I mentioned.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
@Douglas Weil The chance that Zion Williamson will exhaust his college eligibility and emerge from Duke holding a sheepskin before playing in the NBA asymptotically approaches zero. And what if that exploding Nike, endorsed by Coach K, for additional compensation...for the coach only, had caused a triad for Zion, i.e. torn ACL, torn MCL, torn medial meniscus? Then, suddenly, there is not only the chance of no endorsements, but no NBA salary, either. Further, college scholarships are not one four year agreement, but four one year scholarships, renewable at the coach’s discretion. Coach K, with 15 scholarships to give, would be under no obligation to keep Zion on scholarship. And even worse, Duke would be under no obligation, and may not be even now, to pay for his surgery and rehabilitation. All of those things makes the benefit of the degree further fetched. And I’m a college grad, and my wife is a dentist, and neither of us have earned “1 million/year,” let alone over what a high school graduate earns. I think you meant over a lifetime, not per year. You have bought into the NCAA’s bill of goods.
Douglas Weil (Chevy Chase, MD & Nyon, Switzerland)
@Winston Gee, really? I don’t know what classes Zion took and who knows if he will earn a degree ever. But that doesn’t mean he was not paid to play. His scholarship is still worth $65,000 each year. He still has access to coaches and facilities ans to trainers and insurance and competition - all of which are worth tens of thousands of sollars if not ten times that. The exposure he gets for playing at Duke will become millions of dollars in endorsements. He is being paid to play. And so are the thiusands of scholarship athletes who are granted early admission to college, freed from the the expense of tuition, room and board and books, and who can start saving for a houae or a car or whatever they want with the money they receive with their first after-graduation paycheck becauae they are not paying off student loans. Try getting in to Duke when you can’t play basketball and Coach K isn’t forwarding your name to admissions. Rather than pay scholarship athletes, we could dmand that colleges cut back on the amount of time they can practice. And we could demand that collwges make sure that they enroll in real classes and thay they go to class. Anyway, the issue is are scholarship athletes paid to play now. They are.
Mike (NY)
It is possible to pay athletes without creating a bidding war. It’s quite simple, really: everyone gets paid the same. If you play Division I basketball or football, easily the two biggest moneymakers, you get a set amount of money, say $1,000,000, every year you play, regardless if you’re the starting QB or 8th guy on the bench. That money goes into a trust, on which the schools can collect interest, and when the student athlete graduates from the school, the money becomes theirs. Of course, this will require schools to honor scholarships for students who get injured or otherwise cannot play, but the NCAA should be revising the rules to allow schools to keep students who are injured on the field on scholarship without penalty. Students only get paid if they make the team and meet certain academic standards. This encourages the athletes to complete their degree even if they decide to leave school and go pro after one or two years. Plus it ensures that players who get injured and lose that opportunity still get something above and beyond a year or two of “free” college.
Mark C McDonald (Atlanta)
What is there to keep the wealthier universities from paying more "under the table" like they do now?
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
Mr. McDavis: The chances that Zion Williamson, or some fellow freshmen who could all start for the Nix, will finish college eligibility with a degree asymptotically approaches zero. Maybe they go back later, maybe not. But the idea that the top college basketball players are in it for the education that they get from Alma Mater U. is ludicrous on its face. In fact, if the NBA didn’t outlaw high schoolers going pro and bypassing the NCAAs NBA Development League/betting bracket after the likes of Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and LeBron James had, Zion, and dozens of others, would not have graced the one and done championship. Basketball can turn on one transcendent performance. That is much less likely in football, where Nick Saban has been in every four team playoff, and likely justifying his eight figure salary to Bear Bryant U.’s Board of Trustees. And he has 85 scholarships to offer, while the NoFunctionalLobes makes do with a roster of 53. Assistant Coaches routinely reap seven figure salaries at football powerhouses. At the start of each season, there are maybe a dozen candidates to reach the championship playoff. The players are as good as pro, in everything but salary. For every truly brilliant mind like Myron Rolle or Craig Krentzel, there are a dozen like Dexter Manley, who never should have made it through high school, let alone maintain college eligibility. Big money college athletics are irredeemable.
steve (hawaii)
This is why I suggested last week that EVERY D-1 college athlete, male, female, transitional, from football and basketball to gymnastics and field hockey, get paid, and get an equal amount . There's virtually no reason to follow college sports now, since we all know who the best teams are and who's going to be vying for national titles and rankings. Having colleges buy athletes for a season or two at the highest price will ensure that forever, and there'd be no reason to even bother having games. All the professional sports leagues have some sort of mechanism to balance out talent--the draft, salary caps, luxury taxes, required contractual restraints. The NCAA has been totally incompetent at routing out corruption and cheating, so if they're going to allow payment of athletes,then the rules need to be simple. So simple, that no one can possibly make a mistake or "misunderstand" them: You pay a D-1 sport, you get free tuition and board, and $10K a year. That's enough to get you home two or three times a year, get you through the summer, and treat the gang to a pizza party once in a while. Or you can actually save it. If you don't like it, ask any other college student in the country if they'd take that deal.
Remy (Away From the US)
Really? Let the coach K being paid 10M$, and his players nothing. Let's bring chaos into the system and see how it will re-organise. Creative destruction, a concept that can be learn in class.
Zelda (DelMar, CA)
Being a Division I athlete playing football or basketball is a 40--45 hour a week job with zero pay. Sure the NCAA claims to limit it to 20 hours, but there's a long list of required activities that don't count toward the 20 hours - - - meetings, weight-lifting, conditioning, film study,time spent with the trainer, nutritionist, etc. "Student-led" activities don't count either, surely no coach would make expectations for "student-led" activities known, would they? Game day only counts for three hours, never mind travel time, morning workouts, having to arrive several hours before the game starts, post game interviews, etc. This is why universities have "paper classes" for athletes where the only requirement is an end of semester paper that gets an A as long as there are words on paper. No class attendance, no papers, no discussion group, just a one page paper that can say anything. The argument that they're getting an education in exchange for playing is ludicrous. As for all the money going to "expenses," take a look at the facilities. The team locker room/lounge is as luxurious as a 5 star hotel. They have professional-level private workout facilities, can't have them going to the gym that the other students use. And they certainly aren't eating their means in the dining hall. And in salaries for all the staff required to support a pro-level operation, some clever accounting and suddenly they're barely breaking even.
D.Davis (Stony Brook, NY)
The move to professionalize college athletics is a great opportunity for academic quality and opportunity. It would have no real effect on the major conference schools: their athletic budgets can easily absorb the cost. At many other universities, however, the added burden would justify (and, often, require) termination of the most money-draining sports. A large reduction in athletic scholarships (which commonly take up the lion’s share of scholarship funds) would allow for far more academic scholarships, advancing the number and diversity of academically-driven and financially needy students. In a time of great financial strain in America’s universities, the millions of dollars going to all aspects of the budgets for semi-pro sports (particularly football) could be redirected to what is meant to be the reason the university exists - academics. Thus, professionalization would be a win for academics as well as for the semi-pro athletes being profited from at big-conference schools.
Poppa Gander (Portland, OR)
I'll change what you said, just a bit "A handful of big sports programs pay top dollar for coaching staff, administration, and recruiting, while almost every other college is caught up in a bidding war it can't afford." What you are bemoaning as a consequence of money in college sports is already the reality, and the money is being freely shared and spent by everyone but the most valuable part of the equation, the athletes. The fact that the elite schools have a ton more money than anyone else would also be true if top-tier players were paid. The "free education" that players get in compensation can't be fully taken advantage of when players are in high-pressure programs that amount to more than a full-time job when practice, training, travel and other time commitments are required of them. Here's the thing. College sports are already ruined. Elite programs generate money in the billions. You don't think the players should share in it? Fine, then neither should the coaches, administrators. recruiting staff, NCAA officials or anyone else. Don't pay them. Give them scholarships, since that's all you seem to think participation is worth. They can let their kids use them or donate them charitably. The TV and endorsement money can be split up among struggling schools to help more kids get an affordable education.
Mike (San Diego)
If truth be known, a considerable number of the most successful college sports programs have been paying athletes, and it’s been going on for decades.
Steve B (Minnesota)
College sports have already been ruined. You can't consider sports with billion dollar TV contracts and multi-million dollar coach contracts amateur. It already is professional, just dishonest about it. I prefer pro sports because they are much more honest about what they are doing.
L. Norman Sanders (Huntingtown, MD)
I think we still enjoy the Olympics even when some of the athletes are compensated or when their training is at least financially subsidized. Paying athletes didn’t destroy the Olympics. Likewise, I don’t believe paying some college athletes in some sports will destroy all of college intercollegiate athletics. Holding young star athletes hostage in the current system is a pernicious form of rent-seeking (econ term) by the NCAA and is per se unjust. I think it’s awful, for example, that Olympic-level female gymnasts have to choose impoverishment if they want to continue their career at the college level (where the NCAA won’t let them be compensated) even after they’ve competed at very young ages on a world stage.
J Gilbert (prospect, ky)
Um, just what part if the educational mission of a university requires it to field a bunch of teams in a bunch of of sports that a bunch of people don’t care about? I’m glad the writer dug his sports days, but why did the unpaid labor of other athletes have to subsidize it?
Shamrock (Westfield)
@J Gilbert Ask all of the women that insist on the virtues of scholarships for women college athletes. By the way, the conference with the greatest number sports is the Ivy League. The school pays for it. They are not giving it up. All Ivy League schools have twice as many varsity sports than Purdue and Vanderbilt for example.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
@Shamrock By league rule, the Ivy League offers no athletic scholarships. On the other hand, if an Ivy school wants to throw a full value grant in aid to a recruited athlete, there is nothing stopping them; the only caveat is that it can not hinge on participation in the sport. Why can the Ivy League afford to underwrite every sport under the sun (crew, equestrian, much?)? Well, the Ivys all have multibillion dollar endowments. The only prominent sports where Ivy schools compete for National Championships are hockey and lacrosse, which are big at prep schools. A lot of those kids’ parents can afford Ivy tuition. But the boldest of them can win a free ride for their kid by ginning up a bidding war between Ivy League schools.
Rukallstar (Brooklyn, NY)
Of course colleges can’t afford to directly pay athletes, but third parties should be able to. Would only stars get paid? Of course. But that wouldn’t come at the expense of other athletes. The brands would still sponsor teams and pay stars extra, or cut it by a little. Right now college can’t afford to have star athletes leave, so they need to adjust. The status quo will not hold. 3rd party payments seem to be the most reasonable way forward.
Jenifer (Issaquah)
These may be valid points. I can see that it also would have been possible for a young plantation heir studying for his law degree to write a credible argument for the continuation of slavery. The financial arguments would be even more stark and frightening than the ones young Cody uses to defend the college system. Both arguments argue that changing the status quo will upset the financial apple cart of some very important institutions and they would be right. But is the fact that some people's "good" would be ruined by ending an unfair practice be unhealthy? I expect as in slavery it will be just the opposite.
Aaron (California)
Yes, student athletes should never be paid. If players need that, then they need to form a minor league program. College sports need to reduce their investment and make room for the amatuers they were designed to encourage.
Personally I feel student athletes should be paid beyond their scholarship. College sports is capitalism at its best-big profits for the big boys and minimal pay for the workers. However, paying athletes won't solve the issue of corruption with money under the table. The big programs will continue to pay to get the best athletes and simply view any new NCAA pay scheme as the base line from which to overpay under the table. College football and basketball will continue to have an unequal distribution of wins and losses by a few who know how to beat the system.
gsteve (High Falls, NY)
Ruin it for who?? It's been apparent for quite some time, even to those of us who are not college sports fans, that most college athletes are poorly served by the current system -- a system which many have argued takes unfair advantage of young and vulnerable athletes who generate billions for their schools and receive very little in return. How about making a distinction between those schools that generate significant revenue from their sports programs and relegating them to a division that recognizes and makes allowances for that. Athletes would be courted as they are now but with the addition of a salary, perhaps with some type of cap on the overall budget by the university in order to keep the division balanced.
eddie krall (l. a. Ca.)
oh don't be ridiculous! is paying IBM workers ruining that corporation? Or google workers? Or microsoft workers? not paying college athletes is another form of slavery; they get laundry money while their universities get millions to play with in the money markets! oh, we can't give student athletes an equal share of the money pie; it might help them start out in life with more advantages than others; it's not democratic, right? yea, and neither is allowing rich kids of inherit millions of dollars to start their adult life!
Avid (Cambridge, MA)
What a disingenuous argument. How about this: Ending the institution of slavery will really hurt the economies of the slave states... so let's hold off on that. Who cares if some programs fail because they can't pay? People are being treated unfairly, they are genuinely being exploited, and it should stop. If some schools need to reevaluate their priorities when the system is finally corrected... SO WHAT?
Yoav (Boston)
Collage is for education. Collage athletes don’t get free education. They get free college degrees. There is a difference. There are major league athletes that can not form a coherent sentence in English. Sports are fun and should be supported and continued but not through the college system.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
@Yoav So, so true. I was an adjunct at a major university and there was a whole lotta pressure to pass the athletes. I was teaching a public speaking class (which requires attendance), the guy showed up twice in the semester, I flunked him, and I was asked if I could give him a make up test. I said 'no' and refused to talk to anybody about it again. I wonder what would have happened if I needed the job/was going to work there again.
DM (Hawai'i)
@sjs I was a tenured professor at a Division 3 state school and even I would occasionally get a call from a coach: "how's so-and-so doing in your course?" So and so was typically doing poorly. I treated all those calls as expressions of interest and replied accordingly, even though I knew perfectly well what they were. Being tenured context meant no one could threaten my job if I didn't play along. For those who don't know: D3 is the no-scholarships low budget region of the NCAA.
CS from Midwest (Midwest of course)
Bidding war for players? You mean like the bidding wars for college coaches and athletic directors? Why are the highest paid higher ed employees in my state always coaches and athletic directors? I foolishly believe college is about education. Silly me.
MTS (Kendall Park, NJ)
So, Zion WIlliamson shouldn't get paid because the athletic directors at UND and NDSU don't know how to create a budget? The NCAA and CBS/Turner recently signed an $8.8 BILLION, 8 year contract extension for TV rights. Zion's coach is paid $8.89M per year and Duke's top assistant last year (Jeff Capel) was making $525k before he left. But there's no money for players. p.s. UND's hockey coach now makes $400k/yr after getting a $100k raise last year
Doug R (Michigan)
A handful of universities already pay top dollar for student athletes and rountinly get in bidding wars, as do the althletes. Do you really think University of Michigan taking it’s football team overseas each summeris to expose these kids to “culture”, no it is an amenity to their program. Wake up. College sports became a big business with the spread of cable television, and the only ones who have not cleaned up are those doing the bleeding.
Ted Siebert (Chicagoland)
How utterly absurd. College if I remember right is a learning institution not a farm franchise for the NBA. Maybe it’s just me but as soon as big money enters into athletics it ruins the sport. Professional football is more about the highlight reel and the grandstanding by not just the athletes but the football media- retired coaches and players alike all jockeying for that single joke or one liner that keeps them relevant. The college football playoffs is a watered down joke and is more about marketing the name of the title or presenting sponsor than it as about the game. Like so many things-television has ruined just about everything it touches. We are all simply too vain for our own good.
Eve Waterhouse (Vermont)
@Ted Siebert, may I recommend your comment twice, please?!
Alex (Oregon)
@Ted Siebert So you just don't like any sports anymore? They're all on TV.
Harry F, Pennington,nj (Pennington,NJ)
@Ted Sieber You are absolutely correct!
Mauichuck (Maui)
During my academic career I attend two universities: Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and Ohio State in Columbus Ohio. Ohio State can lay claim to seven Heisman Trophy winners and three Nobel laureates. Case is associated with zero Heisman Trophy winners and sixteen Nobel Prize winners. Similarly the University of Chicago has one Heisman Trophy winner and over 100 Nobelists. Years ago the UofC made the decision to de-emphasize athletics and to stress academics. I think that UofC made the right decision.
Erin (South Carolina)
College sports are already ruined -- by the immoral practice of exploiting the labor of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds whose education is harmed, not helped, by participation in college athletics.
Sunlight (Chicago)
The premise of this article is backwards. US Universities should be about teaching and research, as they are in just about every other country. Schools should be worried about nabbing the best scholars and teachers, not coaches and athletes. Why should Wisconsin, for example, care if it can't fund big-time basketball or football? Cody's argument, like every tired rationale for amateurism -- er, exploitation -- in sports, reads like Senator John C. Calhoun's fear that paying cotton pickers would "ruin the Southern way of life."
Darsan54 (Grand Rapids, MI)
Then colleges and universities should allow these "student" athletes full tuition and living expenses after their college careers are finished. This should extend for the life of the athlete. They should be allowed finish a bachelor's, Master's and PhD with full support.
Shamrock (Westfield)
@Darsan54 Since athletic departments operate at a loss, you want the school to give a scholarship for post graduate school? Why not give that to every student?
Chris (SW PA)
As sports betting propagates there will be plenty of money available for college athletes. Many will never become pros and maybe could get a few paychecks by varying their play.
Edgar (NC)
How about we start with the mission of university, that is the education of all of its students. University is meant to be a total education of academics, socialization, personal growth and responsibility. Sports and physical fitness are encouraged through varsity teams, intramural teams and informal groups who meet just to play. University is not a business. It is an investment. This whole debate is driven by the NBA and the NCAA. The one year waiting period is a rule of the NBA, done at the request of the NCAA. It's all about the Benjamins. Billions of dollars are fed to both of them by this system. I love my school, and it is one of the most successful ones, but dangling money to 17/18 yr olds is wrong for the kids and for the schools. Egos of alumni, fans and high schools kids should not be driving this discussion. We should be talking about ensuring that the first mission of university is education. Many university administrators, faculty and students feel this way. But it's going to take a lot of guts and power to rein in this problem. Paying players is wrong on too many levels.
MaryKayKlassen (Mountain Lake, Minnesota)
Except in some of the schools, and for a small number of these students, they wouldn't even be in these schools if they were let in for academics alone. Why should any athlete be rewarded with a full ride college scholarship, let alone paying them to play, then all students at public colleges should be able to attend free? Believe me, there isn't one of them, that the college say, we want him here because he is brilliant in science, math, engineering, tech, etc. no, they are only there because they can play basketball, and may or may not be on their way to playing in the NBA. Now that the NBA might change the rules, and let those who have just graduated from high school immediately enter the draft, paying players in college sports, is probably not going to be a part of the equation anymore.
Kirk (southern IL)
How about taking it out of the head coach's salary? The more he pays them, the less he makes but the better player he gets.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
What is the job of a student joining a College or University, if not studying, and hopefully join society as useful, and responsible, and happy citizens? The problem with Sports, at least in some places, is that student-athletes are exploited, and become athlete-students on an almost full time dedication, cheating them of the purpose to be in a high learning environment. Something is deeply askew here, depriving students of self-reliance and duly prepare them for life's adventure. In brief, if Colleges are deemed honest in their aim, no payment ought to be contemplate for some the price of frustrating the majority...when justice is not served.
Kathleen Parr (Portland, Maine)
The top D1 programs are getting the best recruits anyway. How about if the NFL, the NBA and the WNBA sponsor true juniors or minor leagues? It works in hockey, baseball and professional tennis. The cream of the crop will get paid and colleges will carry on with fierce rivalries, and we'll still have money-spinning bowl games, tournaments, broadcasting rights and the dreaded NCAA.
Chuckles (NJ)
Just like ending slavery ruined the plantation economy of the American South. Everyone points to the value of scholarships, but I'd be willing to bet that a study comparing earnings of graduating D1 athletes to those of non-D1 students in the same majors would show the athletes don't get much values from those degrees- and I would be willing to let all earnings, not just major-related, to be counted, so the occasional comm major that gets a realtor career get get counted. And don't get me started on how unfair it is to provide a scholarship to a kid and expect them to study when practice, travel and games eat up 80 hours or their weeks. Talk about cheap labor. Unfortunately, there are too many folks getting rich from the system to expect any change. Maybe if the kids have a labor stoppage. Get unionized. That is their only leverage. But tough to organize in a 4 year timeframe.
Alex (Oregon)
You are worried that only a few major programs would compete at the highest level? That already happens in college sports.
Concerned Citizen (Everywhere)
@Alex I know! there was a brief moment when butler could make a final four and they clamped down on that real hard. its always Kentucky, North Carolina, Villanova, Duke now. there's no reason this hacky piece should have even be printed!
Paul (Larkspur)
Mr. McDavis has revived the ghost of Avery Brundage. It has been years since tennis and the Olympics realized that amateur athletics is sham. I agree with many of the points other commentors have made about coaches being the highest paid employees of most states with major state university athletic programs and many star football and basketball players having little interest in the pursuit of a degree. Recently the question of the day for Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray was will he report to spring training, he was the #1 draft choice of the Oakland A's, or will participate in the NFL draft combine. Never was a question asked about his status as student at the University of Oklahoma. So I assume he may be one in name only.
William Case (United States)
Why offer colleges athletes anything? There is no need to offer scholarships. There are millions who would play college sports for nothing, just as they pay high school sports for nothing. Colleges would have no trouble filling rosters even if they charged students a fee to play. The teams would not be a good, but why would that matter?
Brian Taylor (Chicago)
Division III athlete here to agree with you. I ran cross country and track for four years because I wanted to and I didn’t get paid a thing. There are no athletics scholarships in DIII either. College sports used to be about the best athletes from one school competing against another, not about which schools could attract the best athletes and build the best gyms. One idea I like is to give these players a choice: either attend the school or get paid to play. Then we’ll see for sure what the real motivations are.
Ted Goldenberg (Lansing, Michigan)
@William Case Excellent point. Also, who has the notion that athletes are not being paid? What are full-ride scholarships worth? $20,000 per year for public colleges, more like $35,000 for private schools like Duke or Stanford.
Poppa Gander (Portland, OR)
@Ted Goldenberg As long as the coaches, staff and administrators are paid the same scale, I think that would be fine. Also, extend the scholarships to six or seven years to make sure the kids have enough time after giving their schools the time and attention participation in a high-level program requires to complete their education.
Pedrito (Denver)
Oh please! In Mr Davis’ version, the Universities would suffer hardship to the detriment of the players. He suggests we should continue the current system, exploitation of the athletes for benefit of Universities and the NCAA. What Mr Davis does not highlight is that if the Universities were forced to pay athletes, the elite group would skip their programs and “go Pro”. The Universities would be left to bid on tier 2, 3 and 4 level players who would likely focus more on academics; the supposed mission of these institutions. It is high time that the myth of “student athlete” be blown up. On the elite level, the current system gives the Universities a free crack at Professional level athletes who should be paid for their hard work. The exploitation should stop.
Diego (NYC)
Citing schools' lack of profitability does not prove that there's not enough money to pay student athletes. If the schools aren't cashing in on the kids, then the TV networks, shoe companies, etc. are.
TDurk (Rochester NY)
The NCAA policies on the NFL and NBA farm systems are Orwellian. Calling the NFL and NBA wannabe minor league players who suit up for Duke et al "amateurs" is a version of "newspeak." The players for the most part are not student athletes. They rarely graduate and far too many are only functionally literate. As NC proved, often they do not attend meaningful classes and far too often they don't do any work. A better idea is to do away with Division 1 sports in colleges. They invariably lose money for the institution while at the same time, making fraud an integral part of the experience. The compensation paid to coaches, et al insults the professional qualifications and mission of academic faculty. The fault lies not with the student age athletes. While they may not be students in any meaningful way, they do understand exploitation. They are being exploited. They are being deceived that they have a chance at the pros; a small single digit percentage of them will ever play pro. No, the student age athletes are rational and want something to compensate them for their time. That's understandable from their perspective. Problem is, the role of NCAA football and basketball no longer supports the mission of higher education, if it ever did. The students shouldn't be enrolled in Division 1 schools in the first place. They are not academically qualified and they take up time and space at the athletic facilities that could otherwise be used by real students.
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
I'd like to see a link to that NCAA data. If a school program is running at an operational loss, there's must be some other justification why the school continues to maintain the program. Alumni donations perhaps. School spirit. Brand recognition. NCAA pressure. If schools weren't getting something for their money, they'd leave Division I. If you aren't competitive in your Division, you shouldn't be competing in that Division. More simply though, the solution isn't for colleges to pay athletes. The NBA simply needs to remove the moratorium on non-college athletes. The money surrounding college basketball will collapse overnight. Any true star is going to skip college altogether. People who actually want to go to school while developing as an athlete are allowed to do that. They can take their chances with injury. The smart student will take the ride knowing they'll have an education regardless. If the NBA comes knocking later, fine. Professional athlete should plan-B for all college athletes.
SIG (Estero FLA)
At the very least schools should provide medical coverage to the student-athlete for the sport-related injury that continues beyond their tenure at the school. As it stands now athletes lose their scholarships and medical care if they can no longer play as a consequence of an injury that may require treatment for years. Let the NCAA create a workers' compensation type medical insurance system for the athletes and require the schools to provide it. This will not ruin college sports. It will inject an element of fairness into a system that is clearly skewed against the health interests of the athletes.
Paul Kramer (Poconos)
Pay-to-Play will divide college sports into two distinct categories: Real institutions of higher learning versus minor leagues for the NFL and NBA. Schools will begin to drop out of the latter category when they start losing money. Eventually the few dozen "Biggies" will realize they don't actually have teams at all but just sponsor entertainment. Bring it on. I'm switching to strictly small college games.
Otis-T (Los Osos, CA)
Hmm. The big time NCAA money programs in the TV sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and tennis to a lesser degree) is a free minor league to the Pros. The money is huge and everyone benefits for their own purposes. Why this is attached to colleges at all is also a business proposition for the universities as well. At this point, big time college TV sports are the pros. If the "student-athletes" want more money, more power to them. The notion these sports are anything remotely like amateur athletics is pure folly. Let the market takes this where it will. If, on the other hand, you play in one of the "minor sports" like swimming, water polo, wrestling, etc. You surely can find your place -- and if you truly want an education, you can find a place to excel in sports and get a great education. Division II & III offer real amateur athletic opportunities with great educations. Many div I schools offer these opportunities as well. Anyone thinking there is such a thing as "amateur" big time TV NCAA sports is deluded. These universities have sold out to the TV and corporate dollars, and the athletes know the realities as well.
snm (bangor, maine)
Giving students proper medical care and support for "sports ending" injuries would be more appropriate. Too many college athletes end up on welfare or in low-paying jobs because of the injuries they received playing college sports. Colleges and the NCAA make millions of dollars off athletes and they need to ensure that those who are injured are properly cared for while in college, and beyond for a life-long injury.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut)
Let sports be intramural. Let college reputations be based on scholarship and education rather than winning in sports, and let those who want to make a living in sports do so openly and be able to avoid an exploitative apprenticeship. If the purpose of college is to provide a network to be used for later success (and to hit this network up for money), then sports is as important as academics if not more so, since many successful graduates view their college days in terms of sports and wild oats sown, with courses something to be put up with and grades something to be scammed. The reality of college is bound up with money and power and projecting largely false images; in this it mirrors society at large, which sees the ostensible purposes of institutions of education as unreal and unrealistic chimeras.
Jeff (Illinois)
"The 30 largest universities in the country each routinely generate annual revenues exceeding $100 million from sports, but according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most of those revenues are spent covering operating expenses for the school’s athletic programs and paying tuition for their student-athletes. The majority of Division I colleges in the N.C.A.A. operate at a loss. In fact, among the roughly 350 athletic departments in the N.C.A.A.’s Division I, only about 24 schools have generated more revenue than expenses in recent years." This is proof positive of how good the economics and accounting departments at these universities are. Obviously these are the schools to attend if you want to major in how to hide fortunes and claim to be broke. The people really crying foul should be the ones who get professors' salaries for devising this dollar disappearing act while the coaches make millions. How sensible is it that in most states, the two highest paid public employees are the football and basketball coaches at the state university?
Cactus (Truckee, CA)
Paying student athletes and allowing them to receive endorsement money would ruin college sports for whom? For the NCAA for sure. For overpaid coaches and ADs for sure. Forfans and alums. For the pro leagues who get athletes trained for free. For The sports media. Who would benefit? The athletes for sure. Students who would be admitted to academic slots currently reserved for athletes. Seems like a no brainer to me. The kids come first.
Jimmy (Texas)
The colleges in Texas already pay their athletes (legally now).
Eric (Pasadena, CA)
Ruining college sports is exactly what is needed. Competitive athletic programs corrupt the educational mission by creating incentives to hand out easy passing grades to athletes. They corrupt the research mission by celebrating a "winning is everything" mentality. They corrupt the university administration, whose attention turns to where the money is.
Michael Blazin (Dallas, TX)
None of these college teams would beat the bottom of the barrel pro teams. Not only could the NCAA basketball champion not beat the worst NBA team. It could not beat the worst European pro team. I doubt the College World Series team could beat any minor league team. The players make lots of bonehead mistakes. All the “excitement” comes from situations where one team surprisingly and temporally gets less bad than another team. We are not watching incredible displays of talent, at least in comparison to players that currently get paid for talent. The only reason the games get televised is the college connection. The schools have fan bases that drive interest. Except in really rare cases, almost all players do not have value independent of the schools they attend. It would probably be best that those few players simply go pro right away. That way they can get paid and not disrupt the overall system.
d. stein (nyc)
no,no,no,no,no.... College sports is ALREADY ruined, and has been so for years. Time to dump the entire system and admit that it is corrupt. From now on, college teams need to have the same relation to their college as professional teams have to their host cities - ZILCH.
graceld99 (arlington, va)
You mean we have parity now in sports that would go away if players were paid? (Hello! Duke and Alabama?)
Buck (Not disclosed)
Athletic programs for football and basketball at the top schools should be converted into what they already are: farm teams for the NFL and NBA.. Those players should be paid to be a part of the farm teams and all other amateur athletes should retain their amateur status. The teams in the NBA and the NFL should fund their farm teams just like baseball does.
george eliot (annapolis, md)
I've had the misfortune to listen to ESPN when getting into my swim trunks at the gym. The talking heads provide some of the dumbest, unintelligible commentary I have ever heard. So this is America: an idiotic focus on sports while the universities of Europe and Asia are focused on science, languages, problem solving, the list goes on and on. Cody, it would be great if college sports was ruined, but that would deprive you of a future as a sports agent with a law degree.
Jordan (Portchester)
Or you could go back to colleges being places of higher learning, first and foremost.
Steve (Sonora, CA)
For the single action that would most improve post-secondary education in the US, my prescription is to abolish all semi-professional sports (football, basketball, perhaps baseball) as part of a college's "program." Let the educational institutions franchise their names, lease their facilities ... whatever. But this arrangement would be "strictly business" between the institution, the students, the networks and sports leagues that might engage in these transactions. But end the fiction that sports provides some general benefit to the educational goals of the college or the student body as a whole. This is particularly true of the tax-supported, public "land-grant" universities at the heart of the US "college"-sport fixation.
mk (CA)
Students can't afford college tuition as it is. How will they be able to subsidize pro athletes?
Paul Brennan (New York)
Again, allow universities the option to lease the rights to their revenue generating teams to third parties. These third parties, perhaps pro teams or alumni groups or consumer product companies, could pay the athletes in either cash or tuition vouchers at the player's option. This ends the sham of the student athlete. Schools who don't adopt the option simply don't have to play against those that do.
marielle (Detroit)
Please stop. We are talking about a 1 billion dollar industry. Everyone from coaches, AD's, video games makers, shoe companies, school merchandise contracts et al profit on the backs of these "amateur" student athletes and it all continues to spin on their "amateur" shoulders. It would be nice to show concern for the students rather than merely muse about how to perpetuate the system without paying the students. No where else in the business world and yes this is a business would this be tolerated or even possible. Do these athletes even own the copy right to their own images and likeness? You cannot make a credible ethical, moral, and or a business case for this to continue. The schools should have long ago put a percentage of the funds generated by these students no matter how large or small the college or university into a trust for these students. There seems to be no qualms about paying the coaches, assistant coaches, trainers etc...large salaries but the house on which it is all built? No.
Chris (San Francisco)
Paying the players something isn't tantamount to paying them pro salaries. There's no reason they couldn't just implement a living wage or reasonable stipend, and ban any sort of scenario where a bidding war would form. It's a pretty simple concept that it's hard to believe didn't occur to the author.
JAR (North Carolina)
These university-affiliated semi-pro teams have no business in academia. Club sports are more than sufficient for student-athletes. Let the professional sports fund their own minor league teams. At the end of the season, relegate the bottom 3 teams to the minor leagues and replace them with the best 3 minor league teams. The owners will finally have a reason to win.
Robert M. Stanton (Pittsburgh, PA)
Give credit to George Halas who made the deal with the NCAA making college football teh minor leagues for the fledgling NFL. The NBA came along and recognized what good deal it was. I question whether the NCAA can clean their own house. They live in a fantasy past. What is needed is a through house cleaning with a new cast of characters, maybe a board of outsiders with no connection to any sports program. Also they must admit that teh one size fits all approach does not work. Big conference football and basketball bears no resemblance to non revenue sports
Don Shipp. (Homestead Florida)
Jalen Rose's anecdotal story about seeing his Michigan jersey for sale in a store window at at an exorbitant price, when he couldnt even afford to buy lunch, is the perfect metaphor. Athletes deserve to be compensated not only for the significant revenue they produce, but for the demonstrated increase in endowment donations, and student enrollments, associated with athletic success. The stipend could be standardized to prevent biding wars. The argument that a college degree is payment enough is disingenuous because many top athletes dont graduate. At a minimum, colleges should be required to insure athletes, with projected professional potential, for substantial amounts in case of injury.
Andy (Florida)
I didn’t see a more viable solution outlined by the author here except to universally say that college athletes shouldn’t be paid. If recent years have been any indication the status quo is untenable. Currently division 1 college sports (pretty much just football and basketball) is a multi-billion dollar industry where the main attractions do not get to share in the spoils. At best it is an exploitative endeavor; more concerningly it harkens to a darker time in the country’s history where a majority of dark skinned laborers go unpaid while majority white tv execs and coaches pull the strings. How much does nick saban make a year?? If they don’t make it to the pros what kind of jobs are his “students” getting when they leave? Instead of a farce of amateurism being used as a feeder system for the NBA and NFL I think big game sports should be eliminated from the university system altogether. Create a new minor league system for basketball and football for the truly elite players that can make a living from this. Students should focus on their studies first. Those that play sports should continue to do so but ideally on an intramural basis and with local schools. Let’s use Europe as an example here. Universities in this country have gotten too big for their britches and have unconscionably burdened young people with excessive tuition and fees without increasing the quality of education or employment prospects.
macduff15 (Salem, Oregon)
" A handful of big sports programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes, while almost every other college would get caught up in a bidding war it couldn’t afford." Bidding war? How about a fixed pay scale, paid for with university-generated funds only to keep private money out of the picture? Cutting some sports to pay athletes competing in others? This is a problem? I thought colleges and universities were institutions of higher LEARNING. And please, don't give the free college education argument without checking the graduation rate of athletes in the revenue-producing sports.
josestate (Pasadena)
"The 30 largest universities in the country each routinely generate annual revenues exceeding $100 million from sports, but according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most of those revenues are spent covering operating expenses for the school’s athletic programs and paying tuition for their student-athletes. The majority of Division I colleges in the N.C.A.A. operate at a loss." Considering that the NCAA has made their so-called amateur sports programs an, "over $6 billion" industry from the sweat, injuries, and labor of unpaid student athletes, I wouldn't be so quick to take the NCAA's word for it. It's tantamount to believing antebellum slave owners or their modern-day apologists when they said/say that slavery is good for the slaves, that slaves are happy being slaves, or that slavery is essential to society. Either universities and colleges pay their players or find another way to make money.
Jim S. (Cleveland)
Why must every college and university have sports? This would make a good experiment at various state systems to have some schools with teams and some without. I'd think a lot of students would like a tuition break covering the money not wasted on sports, and not having very tall or very heavy men being the most important people on campus. And it would be good to limit schools to a small number of four year scholarships - three per year in basketball, for example - that would not be transferrable if a player left for the pros or various other reasons. One and done would mean one less scholarship player available for the next three years. It would give universities some reason to recruit real student athletes, not a new pro team in training each year.
Kyle (Kansas)
The issue framed by Mr. McDavis, although well written, is misguided, as are most commenters who write about this topic. The issue shouldn’t be whether the NCAA should permit universities to pay its players. Because as Mr. McDavis points out such a policy would be financially impractical. Instead, the issue should be framed as this: Under of the NCCA bylaws, a player cannot receive any form of payment for his or her “likeness.” For example, Johnny Manziel was suspended for half a game for selling his own autograph to fans. Should players be suspended for making money from their own “likeness” when the NCAA and Universities have no financial interest at stake? -Student at the University of Kansas School of Law
Richard (LA)
When referring to the college ranks as a farm system for the professional leagues, one thing that is not being factored into either the article or the comments is the ratio of student-athletes who will go on to a professional career to the total number of student-athletes. Even if we restrict the conversation to football and basketball alone, we are talking about a very small percentage. In football, there are 224 draftees plus perhaps another 25 undrafted players who get picked up. Assuming for this exercise they all come from Division I, there are 130 schools and probably 60 players on each roster. That comes to 7800. So it's something less than 3%. Even if you look at the big powerhouse schools, only a small handful of the players will go on to a professional career. At Alabama right now, it could reach as high as 10-15%. Whatever decisions get made about compensation for student-athletes ought to be based upon the 90-97% who will never whiff the NFL, not upon the 3% who will, and certainly not upon the miniscule percentage who will go on to a notable career surpassing the league average of three years.
sam (brooklyn)
Because how excited the fans are is obviously the most important factor at play, right? What this guy is basically saying, is that we need the NCAA to authorize smaller colleges to use unpaid labor to fill their teams with players because they wouldn't be profitable otherwise is basically the same argument the Confederacy used to justify slavery. "Oh no, how can we run massively profitable cotton plantations if we have to actually PAY the people who are generating our income?!?! That would just be unfair!"
Wolf (Tampa, FL)
Not sure I see the problem here if schools have to cut non-revenue-producing sports. What's the school's main reason for existence? It is true that allowing young athletes who are forced by NBA and NFL rules to attend college to be paid more fairly for their revenue-producing labor, college baskeball and football will be divided into haves and have nots. I root for a non-Power 5 school in college football. Cry me a river. It's already stratified. At least make Alabama and Clemson share some of their bounteous revenue with the young athletes who are putting their bodies on the line to earn it.
Ronald D. Sattler (Portland, OR)
Exceptionally poor analysis. Football and basketball coaches at top schools, even not so top schools, are paid more than all the full-ride student-athlete scholarships and costs combined. Start there, and magically money will become available for athletes.
Chris (San Francisco)
I'd give this comment 20 thumbs up if I could.
David (Upstate NY)
"The 30 largest universities in the country each routinely generate annual revenues exceeding $100 million from sports, but according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most of those revenues are spent covering operating expenses for the school’s athletic programs and paying tuition for their student-athletes" A convenient way for covering up the millions of dollars the coaches of these non paid athletes make
Indian Rediff (Monmouth Junction, NJ)
From the article: "The remaining 325 or so will be forced to make a decision: not pay their athletes (and risk losing top talent to schools that do) or find a way to pay." How about a third option? How about the remaining Universities start to fund STUDIES instead? Instead of sports? The US would suddenly become a lot more interesting in terms of its academic achievements - instead of producing the next multi-millionaire M Jordan. The economy would benefit from such a grass roots change, with a lot more brains being put to use. If you don't like my comments - please remember that for each millionaire NBA or NFL or NHL player being produced, the same money if used to promote academic achievements, along with RECREATIONAL sports to keep the body and mind fit, would result in a more equitable distribution of the same wealth.
"The chancellor at the University of Wisconsin, Rebecca Blank, has also said that her school would consider cutting sports programs altogether." Sure, and let all programs become more similar to club or IM sports. Sounds excellent to me, and I say this as the parent of a nationally ranked athlete who plans to play in college.
Michael (Flagstaff, AZ)
Seems like the only real tension here is for the athletes whose long term goal is to go professional in their sport but have pressure to attend four years of school first. All this 'its a shame' talk when one of them gets hurt. I see nothing wrong with simply compensating the average college athlete with a full scholarship. It's a terrific opportunity in a country where college is so expensive and playing might be a way in. If a student athlete gets injured while playing, the school should commit to helping them through their degree. But as for the pro folks who are 'missing out on financial opportunity', if they want to go pro, maybe they should skip college.
Mike (CA)
How about this: Stop admitting athletes who would not have otherwise been accepted solely on their academic merits. This would, of course, largely ruin the entertainment value of college football and basketball. It would, however, return college sports to the state of true amateurism it was always intended to be, and it would force the NFL and NBA to develop their own minor leagues instead of having colleges (which are very often tax-payer funded) foot the bill for them. It would also open up a few more spots for students who are actually attending college for the primary purpose of getting an education, while allowing those who want to focus on a career in athletics to enter the minor leagues and begin receiving some kind of compensation immediately after high school. The biggest losers would probably be the overcompensated coaches, but that seems a small price to pay.
MRod (OR)
Here in little ol' Corvallis, Oregon, we have a college football stadium that is surrounded by acres of parking lots that can contain 2/3 the population of our town. Of course it is not used anything close to capacity more than about 10 days per year- home games and graduation. The team is so mediocre to bad that the stadium is half empty on the rare occasions when there are home games. It is a concrete, plastic, steel, and glass monument to the profligacy of college football. Numerous coaches and other personnel are paid more than most school teachers, nurses, or other professionals who have college degrees. Oregon State University has a mind boggling 15 equipment managers, or should I say "Equipment Systems Specialists" some of whose salaries exceed $70,000, which of course is only about half the cost of an employee. That's pretty good coin for buying jerseys and sneakers for the teams. It cost $100,000 to get a bachelor's degree from OSU, accounting for all expenses. It just keeps getting more expensive. College is becoming out of reach for more and more people, yet we allow bloated sports programs to drive up the cost of education. This is just another indicator of the demise of American civilization.
dmanuta (Waverly, OH)
Ohio State athletics are a profit-making enterprise. Per the author's text, OSU is one of only a handful of universities that can make this statement. As an independent entity, OSU sports generate more than $100 million in revenue each year. This makes OSU sports (in terms of revenue) ONE OF THE LARGEST CORPORATIONS in the entire Buckeye State. While people like me enjoy home football games on Saturdays six (6) or seven (7) times each autumn, the behemoth that OSU sports has grown into is at the heart of the issues raised by the author. I was a Division III college athlete more than four (4) decades ago. Certainly, I was not as gifted/talented as Zion Williamson is, but I still had to do well enough in the classroom in order to retain my eligibility to compete. In this respect, we can either maintain what has historically meant student-athlete status for those of us who competed in NCAA sanctioned sports or we can enter a brave new world of de facto minor leagues for professional sports. I'm not sure what the ultimate answer is, but the author is certainly wise to sensitize readers of The Times to this very real problem.
Rick D (Watertown, MA)
The NBA and NFL ought to field semi-pro teams with paid athletes the way that the MLB fields “farm clubs”. This would be fair to all and provide wages and benefits for young people that simply wanted to play and have a shot at the big leagues, not necessarily a college diploma.
Blackmamba (Il)
Paying sports athletic directors and sports coaches more than professors in academic fields is bad for education. Sports is meant to be an adjunct to education. Athletic directors and coaches living off of the talents of unpaid athletes is ethically and morally wrong. Athletics as a professional profit enterprise belongs in academies specifically meant for that purpose. Too much athlete and too little student is too much of one lesser thing and too little of one greater thing.
Michel (Redding, CA)
For those of us who paid for (and value) our collegiate experience, it's hard to see how student athletes getting full ride college scholarships are being harmed by the status quo unless one views college sports as the de facto minor league system for professional sports enterprises. College is for students.
benjamin wise (panama city, fl)
@Michel that's the point, they are minor league farm systems (football players are not allowed to enter nfl for three years after high school because why?) If a University is going to use the program to generate goodwill entertain alum and otherwise advertise it's services, that should be considered into the equation. Let's face the regular student athlete will be affected but the kids in the Div. 1 programs deserve to be compensated. Don't @ me about scholarships, thats the ante to get these kids to your college, why would they pay to go?????
Bogey Yogi (Vancouver, BC)
If I am going to spend 3 hours or so watching sports, I would rather watch the best of the best (the pros) rather than bunch of kids running around.
Jake (New York)
“ A handful of big sports programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes, while almost every other college would get caught up in a bidding war it couldn’t afford.” College football and basketball have operates like this for decades. It’s just all under the table. End the charade.
Brennan (New York)
A young British man once complained to Adam Smith about the revolting situation in the colonies, and asserted that, if matters continued, the nation would be ruined. Smith replied: "Be assured, young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation."
truth (West)
Of course college athletes shouldn't get paid to play. They also shouldn't get recruited, or given scholarships. Those should go to academically worthy kids, not athletes! Athletes good enough to go pro should do so. The NFL and NBA can create a farm system that pays prospects and brings them up through the professional ranks as they grow and mature. Colleges can go back to focusing on education. Sports are a part of that--and will be again, once big-time recruiting is removed from the equation.
wyleecoyoteus (Cedar Grove, NJ)
@truth Agreed. Sounds a lot like the way baseball does it. And most colleges still field baseball teams for students who want to have the experience of playing that sport at the collegiate level.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
@wyleecoyoteus Baseball teams are now generally favoring college players over high schollers. But let the NBA and NoFunctionalLobes finance their own farm systems.
Rick (Summit)
Unions for pro athletes negotiate for between 50 and 60 percent of revenue for player salaries. If this was done with March Madness, the average athlete would get $300,000. Instead they get Tuition, room and board and the coach gets $6 million because he’s the only one allowed to be paid. Many schools sell shirts with the name of a famous athlete alum, but the athlete isn’t paid because he was an amateur at college. So t-shirts are sold an if it’s the athlete pro uniform he gets paid, but if it’s his college uniform, he does not. There’s so much cheating in college sports because athletes are paid under the table. Making such payments legal, would end that fraud. If some colleges couldn’t afford a big athletic program and instead put their money into academics, they might enhance their reputation before the type of students they actually want. And alumni who only give money for sports could be encouraged to raise the academic reputation of their alma mater instead.
Adam (Pensylvania)
Thank you for your article Mr. McDavis. It appears the commenters are dissatisfied with the reasoning behind this piece for two primary reasons: (1) coaches are paid a lot of money, therefore players could also be paid; and (2) colleges shouldn't even have sports programs because they distract from education, which is their primary reason for existence. With regard to the first point, this applies to a very small percentage of universities and college athletes. Further, if you were to reduce coach pay, then the quality of talent recruited to the school would correspondingly drop. College athletic recruiting is a zero-sum game and coach pay is just dictated by the free market. The second point appears to be the opinion of people who simply don't like sports. However, the data is clear that a significant portion of high school students make college decisions based on the quality of the sports programs as they can make the whole college experience vastly better. Also, the critics of Mr. McDavis' article miss the main point entirely. The vast majority of student athletes generate little to no revenue for their schools, yet the school rewards them with a free college education anyway (conservatively, $100,000). Likewise, nobody is forcing these athletes to attend college. It is the NBA's rules, not the NCAA, that requires one year of college play. The players are free to forego college in order to receive the compensation that people think the NCAA is depriving them of.
Vanessa Hall (Millersburg, MO)
Headline: Paying Students to Play Would Ruin College Sports Question: For whom? Because it's not an 'either/or' choice. There are also already tiers of college sports. They are called "divisions." Just as there are tiers in baseball, with Triple A, and Double A etc. UCLA, where the author is a student in its School of Law, is not the same as the University of Northern Colorado, where he attended undergraduate school. Both are Division 1 schools, but the existing system of Divisions is not sacrosanct. Creating a new division or two that defines which schools can pay which athletes, and how they are paid can just be part of the process.
Dylan (Barr)
I take issue with the numbers that are at the center of this article. For one thing, universities are incentivized to bloat their athletic departments in order to make the argument that they’re not as profitable as you might think. The BILLIONS coming in are given to empty suits in the conference commissioner’s office (Jim Delaney had a bonus of $20 million in 2017!!), coaches, assistants, administrators... anyone BUT the players. Pay those people more reasonable salaries, and there is plenty of money for the players. Additionally, to pretend that, as things stand, big-time athletic departments are on a level playing field with smaller ones is preposterous. The University of New Hampshire athletic department does not have anywhere near the same resources at its disposable as The University of Texas does. So there will be no competitive balance shift— the elite talents will attend bigger sports schools, as they do now. Amateurism made sense in a bygone era, but when we’re talking about billions of dollars in TV deals and advertising, it’s time to pay the players. They don’t need to be paid like pros, but they deserve something.
John Ranta (New Hampshire)
The author never mentions the obvious alternative, which is that the professional NCAA college sports industry could be allowed to collapse, making life better for all involved. We all know that Division 1 college sports is professional entertainment, making billions for TV, advertisers and a few elite colleges. So let it die. Go back to the old days when college sports were played for the sake of the athletes and the colleges, not Nike and Budweiser. We’d all be better off.
Alfred (Staten Island)
Why isn't this an issue with baseball and hockey? Because they operate minor league teams, that's why. I'm tired of having taxpayer supported minor leagues for the NFL and NBA. Every time a person writes a check to a college or pays a tuition bill, the taxpayers subsidize the NFL and NBA. And all that TV money? Review how much coaches, NCAA officials, bowl and tournament officials earn, and it will look even worse from the perspective of the players, other students and taxpayers (yes, them again).
MEM (Los Angeles)
I believe most colleges run athletic programs with a separate budget, independent of their educational program budgets.
MPG (Portland OR)
@MEM Nope. From the NCAA itself. "The expenses generated by operating athletics programs continued to exceed the revenue they produce at the vast majority of Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2014, continuing a trend seen in recent years, according to a new NCAA Study."
Doug Karo (Durham, NH)
"A handful of programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes, while other schools would get caught up in a bidding war they couldn’t afford." I guess that means there would be no real change.
Pete (Michigan)
Is this a bad thing? I don't get why the New York Times would suddenly be interested in supporting the embarrassment that is college sports. If you are going to have kids put themselves at risk for lifelong injury, you might as well pay for them, and commit to lifelong health coverage.
Pete (Florham Park, NJ)
It seems to me that the root of the problem is television: if college sports were not televised, the huge amounts of money flowing to the major colleges would disappear, and with it the entire problem of "professional student athletes." It's the same problem some of us have with the Olympics: before they were turned into television entertainment for the masses, they were a sports competition for amateurs. I had friends on several Olympic teams, and they competed because they loved the sports, not for money, because without TV, there wasn't any. We need to treat colleges as educational institutions, where students can compete in sports if they wish, but the colleges should not make money because of it.
Frank (South Orange)
Division 1 athletes are getting free tuition, room, board, travel, etc. at a cost that exceeds $50,000 per year. The academically-focused who is there to learn doesn't enjoy such benefits. If a college athlete wants to get paid, quit your all-expense paid education and turn pro. Don't add to the already high cost of a college education for everyone else.
Chuckles (NJ)
@Frank Ironic isn't it that most of the big powerhouse programs are state schools, where resident athletes get a lower in-state "salary" by your definition. Why would a kid from Birmingham choose to play for Alabama when he could go to Harvard, or for that matter Rutgers, and get a larger tuition fee covered by his scholarship. Nah, he goes to 'bama because he wants to go pro. Argument really falls down in bball, where NBA requires a year out from high school. Tell me that year's worth of education has any value. But all the best players (and their college coaches) love it.
Kevin Dailey (Greenpoint)
You would think with all the billions going into the NCAA that tuition would be lower. Universities are sociopathic, which is why the tuition rate way exceeds the inflation rate. Also, please look up the definition of "free." You're saying the players are getting something for nothing, when the reality is the schools are getting the better of the deal.
Douglas Bielenberg (Clemson SC)
This points out that they are in some sense already getting paid. Really we're just talking about adding a stipend.
Paul (Hanover, NH)
Pay student athletes from a pool of money shared across all schools. The pool would be funded by the profitable schools AND the professional sports leagues that benefit from the Collegiate Farm System. The current system is Socialism for the owners of professional leagues.
Too late, college sports have been ruined for quite some time now. Scholarships have been awarded by top universities to marginal students because they happen to be good at a revenue making sport. Make shift jobs where athletes are basically required to turn off the gym lights are handed out to these athletes while academic scholarships are difficult to come buy. I realize that these athletes generate a lot of income for the schools, but professional athletes have already changed the Olympics lets not make college sport worse than it already is. A free education and a chance to play professional sports are pretty good perks as it is.
Jon Glaudemans (Washington DC)
This is not so complicated. NCAA should take 50% of their TV revenues across all sports, and pay each D1 athlete a fixed amount per year, with the monies placed in trust and released on graduation. All D1 athletes in each (?) sport — maybe TV-revenue-producing only — would be paid the same amount. NCAA could allocate the other 50% as at present, where, in the macro version of the commentators fear of an arms race at the athlete-centric level, there already exists a school-centric arms race.
Michael Scofield (New Milford, CT)
Sorry, Mr. McDavis, but college sports are already ruined. I agree with your analysis about what would happen if athletes were paid, but the current system is (among other things) exploitative. Pay college athletes and, yes, chaos will ensue but that needs to be the path toward some future system that might return college sports to a position more in line with the mission of higher education.
Doug W (Newport, NC)
So this headline includes the words "...Would Ruin College Sports." That implies that College Sports as it exists today is good, or maybe even excellent. That is a fantasy. The schools, universities, coaches and apparel companies all make buckets full of money on the backs of these "Amateur" athletes. Meanwhile the players can't afford to take a date out for a pizza and movie without fear of NCAA reprisals. Ending big time college sports would be a good thing, let the Pro Leagues figure out the financing.
Patrick Sullivan (Denver)
This column reinforces my belief that competitive college sports simply shouldn't exist. I was going to write a defense along the lines of 'they can't get jobs like a normal college student so maybe pay them a bit so they can eat' but if you are morr concerned with the sanctity of sport than you are about being able to eat then the deep moral failing can only be rectified by removing the problem entirely.
outraged reader (Columbus, Ohio)
The author worries that actually paying the athletes what they're worth could ruin college athletics as we know it---as if that were a bad thing. Who ever said that colleges should serve as farm teams for the pros? There are so many venues for playing sports and so many people who would take up the slack if colleges bowed out that I think few tears would be shed if Alabama or Kentucky or Clemson actually became known for their academics and not their football or basketball teams. Or if the monies paid to the coaches and athletic directors went to scholarships for smart but penniless high school students who show promise in subjects that can actually help the planet and its inhabitants . Mr. Davis should not lament the demise of the ridiculous system that is now in place. Sports will survive if the team calls itself the Tallahassee Seminoles or the Ann Arbor Wolverines.
henry (italy)
There is a simple solution to this. treat athletes like any other work-study student with a job. They practice 20 hrs a week and would be paid at the work study rate. This would make it relatively even across most universities...
james doohan (montana)
The association of athletics and higher education is the central problem, arguing that most athletes work hard and don't get paid is irrelevant. If the money-producing programs subsidize less lucrative sports it is also irrelevant. The question is: why do colleges have sports programs? This is voluntary adult activity, and most athletes participate for pleasure. Why should other students and taxpayers subsidize sports? Why not drop all money-losing sports unless the students participating cover the cost? Make big money sports professional, have the major schools sell sponsorships to the professional leagues to fund the minor league system? I really doubt Bama fans care whether or not athletes attend classes, but make classes available as an perk for athletes? Trying to make an insane system work is crazy. The whole idea needs to be re-thought, schools need to get out of the leisure activity business, and those players good enough to make their schools money should be paid. There is no rational argument for Zion to play for nothing as an 18 year old adult.
Adam Clarke (Toronto)
The sharecropping economics of the NCAA is simply offensive. I laud the idea of scholarships but schools should be first committed to ensuring their student athletes can actually gain a useful education. I agree with the reader who suggests uncoupling sports from school. I’m Canadian, university is not the route of most hockey players to the NHL.
KMD (New Haven, CT)
All of the top talent *already* flows into the best 25 programs. Or fewer. And that's true across almost all sports. Rare is the '5-star' recruit who chooses to go to a lesser program. So pay them what they're worth.
Dagwood (San Diego)
Maybe it’s time for a new elite division in the NCAA. You want to be at the highest level in a sport, you pay your athletes and coaches. Division I could then cap coaches’ (and AD) salaries and play much as DII and DIII do now, but, as now, with more scholarship funding. Then let the schools who choose to be professional minor leagues pay the cost and win bragging rights. Let them bid every year for the best DI players to transfer, with no compensation to the school the kids are leaving. Leave the rest of us alone in the land of sanity and actual higher education.
Ed (Old Field, NY)
If you make it, the average length of an NBA player’s career is about 5 years; in the NFL, it’s about 3. Whether you’re paid or not as an undergraduate, you had best make the most of your 4 years of higher education.
Mister Mxyzptlk (West Redding, CT)
@Ed If I demonstrated that I was a "blue chip" in my sport, then why would I risk injury for no pay instead of going immediately to the pros. While the careers are short as you point out, the payoff is far greater than most college graduates can expect over a working lifetime at a "normal" job. Meanwhile, the alma mater is making money selling my jersey with name on it, millions of $ from Nike (or fill in the blank) for shoes etc. and the players get nothing. Most of these students get a customized academic program designed to allow them to focus on athletics instead of academics and, if they get injured, the scholarship goes away and those without the means to continue (most of them) drop out. So much for the good will towards student athletes by these "non-profit" universities or the NCAA. While I have concerns about paying athletes, I could envision model where the top tier scholarship athletes are protected by an insurance policy should they suffer a career ending injury while enrolled and improved student stipends
Jeff (Reston, VA)
Interesting how Mr. McDavis cites economic statistics from the NCAA, a totally objective source, right? The NCAA is nothing more than a front for the pro leagues, wallowing in money while imposing draconian rules on the sources of that money, the athletes. It's easy to obfuscate in this argument, but the coaches, universities, media, advertisers and gambling industry all make huge money while the athletes get paid absolutely nothing.
mrfreeze6 (Seattle, WA)
@Jeff, Mark Emmert, the current president of the NCAA (formerly President of the University of Washington) is a shameless promoter of the leagues and owners. When he speaks about "student athletes," his tone drips with condescension, as if we don't understand exactly what he represents: modern day, unpaid, indentured servitude of young athletes. The whole student-athlete situation is criminal.
Malcolm (Santa fe)
Such a tired argument for the reality of today. 40 years ago, at an Ivy League college, I roomed with a football player. In the fall, He would be gone four hours a day for football. He would be exhausted when he came back, and I have no idea how he was able to keep up with his classes. It is a joke to think one can balance the demands of intercollegiate sports with a well rounded intense college education. The University of Alabama spends $165 million a year on football. The coach is paid $8 million. There is plenty of money to pay the players. And guess what? If there isn’t any money to play the players, then I think it would be an improvement to not have college football. Today’s football and basketball programs destroy any concept of EDUCATION of the individual and distort our culture as to what is important about college education. College sports today Are just Roman bread and circuses for the masses.
Jean (Vancouver)
@Malcolm And the rational is the same. Distraction.
Terry McKenna (Dover, N.J.)
I went to a small college which played at the lowest level of NCAA competition. Our basketball team did pretty well within truly amateur competitor. For everyone else except athlete, we ARE paid if we work. I was an art student on scholarship and sold a mural once, others sold calligraphy. Later on my engineer student son was a paid surveyor for the summer. The edifice of student athletics has become and obscenity. Let it crash and burn it is can't be truly an amateur endeavor. Or pay the pros and ALL OTHERS ARE PAID.
mrfreeze6 (Seattle, WA)
Why not simply separate sports leagues completely from the educational systems (high school and college) as they are in other countries, and let those who want to pursue a career in athletics go ahead and follow that path? Why connect the two directly? Here's why: because if the athletic "businesses" had to pay market value for talent from the start, no organizations would want to carry the cost. Schools merely facilitate the exploitation of athletes by professional sports teams. Of course, colleges and universities like the current system because it's essentially a marketing tool to attract students; however, consider an institution where the main consideration is education rather than sports.
Avraham Bronstein (Scranton, PA)
The University of Wyoming pays its football coach $1.4 million (+ annual increase and incentives) and its outgoing basketball coach nearly $750,000. The players all receive nothing. So the issue is not lack of funds, per se. It is the distribution of revenue between labor and management.
Guwinster (Miami)
@Avraham Bronstein ...but seriously, Wyoming could cover it's $700,000 in extra expenses simply halving their head football coach's salary, effectively making him a .5 percenter as opposed to a .1 percenter.
Will Eigo (Plano Tx!)
Akin to the paradigm of corporate capitalism in USA. Certainly no surprise here.