With NFL players and owners squabbling over player compensation and word coming out about college players being given financial incentives to play, now seems like a good time to talk about compensation in sports. To keep it simple and timely, let's focus on football (no, not futbol or even fooseball - we're talking about real North American Football).
First, let's level the playing field by bringing us all up to speed on the two situations I mentioned in my opening. The 2011 NFL season remains in jeopardy as players and owners try to reach labor terms that they can both live with. On April 6th a court hearing will seek to determine the legality of the player lockout. With the owners appearing to be quite determined to get their way, the outlook is not good.
Another story broke this week around an HBO special that will apparently expose certain offenses in which college athletes were given significant sums of money in expectation that they would join certain programs (Auburn University is one of the highlighted programs). Such activities are strictly forbidden by the NCAA.
The disparity between these two examples is laughable. On the one hand, you have owners and players making millions (through ticket sales, TV, merchandising, etc) who both think they deserve a bigger piece of the pie. On the otherhand, you have owners (Universities and the NCAA) making (on average) millions through their programs and compensating athletes with 50 square feet of dorm room, $10/day at the campus cafeteria and free books on such exciting topics as Earth Science and Art History.
Now to be fair, most college student athletes on scholarship are given the gift of a college education without the financial worries that most students endure. In most cases, the essentials are taken care of (tuition, room and board, books), but last I checked 9 out of 10 college students prefer having some cash in their pocket (informal survey) for such peculiar activities as dating, eating pizza and the occasional new pair of shoes.
Would it kill a program like University of Texas - whose football program profited more than $68 million in 2010 to pay their players minimum wage to cover these expenses? Likely not. The problem is that the schools from smaller conferences with weaker television deals and less committed boosters are not nearly so lucky. Fifty-three of 61 "small conference" schools split profits of $26 million while 8 lost money altogether in 2010.
And so, the question now becomes even more complicated. If schools are allowed or mandated to pay their athletes, what about the smaller schools who may not even be able to offer pay the equivalent of a part-time job scrubbing toilets? Is it ever right to allow some universities to pay cash while others are strapped? And so here we are - perplexed.
To be continued...