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Pay to play: College athletes deserve compensation

Pay to play: College athletes deserve compensation





Matthew Sable
| Columnist

March 14, 2017

There is a noticeable divide between the haves and have-nots in collegiate athletics.

Coaches, non-revenue sports and athletic directors are profiting most from the revenue generated by men’s basketball and football. But student-athletes, who play a central role in facilitating sports programs’ success, don’t see their talents rewarded beyond the bare minimum.

This situation has been made possible by a misguided NCAA rule and exacerbated by colleges’ unwillingness to open their wallets for college athletes – despite the fact that many of them don’t have room in their schedules for part-time jobs.

Coaches’ salaries have exploded since widespread TV broadcasts of collegiate games turned college athletics into the money-maker it is now. In his final year at UCLA in 1975, when he won his 10th national championship, legendary head coach John Wooden made $40,500 — which equates to about $175,000 today. UCLA’s current head coach Steve Alford has a salary of $2.6 million — nearly 15 times what Wooden made. Former Pitt head basketball coach Jamie Dixon made more than $2.3 million in 2016 — and while football head coach Pat Narduzzi’s salary hasn’t been made publically available, we know it’s more than that.

In contrast, student-athletes have seen virtually no benefits from their contributions. NCAA rules stipulate that “all incoming student-athletes must be certified as amateurs” — a prohibition that makes it impossible for schools to directly pay their student-athletes. Undergraduate student-athletes at Pitt received only $3,296 each in cost of living stipends in 2015 from Pitt’s athletic department and $5,922 for graduate students. In total, all Pitt student-athletes that year received only about $1.1 million in stipends — barely one-fourth of the $3.9 million Pitt coaches made during the 2015 fiscal year, according to University data.

The Power Five conferences have enough revenue to shell out more money for the players who earn it for them. Schools belonging to these conferences — including the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — make anywhere from $22.1 million to $34 million per school per season from bowl games, the NCAA Tournament and television deals.

From 2008 to 2015, the budgets of public universities’ athletic department revenues grew by 50 percent for Power Five schools. Even without an NCAA rule complicating schools’ relationship with student-athletes, colleges and athletic departments can and should be looking out for their players’ well-being. But the way schools handle athletic scholarships shows this concern is mostly absent.

The NCAA has allowed schools to give out multi-year scholarships — a pledge by a school’s head coach to to provide multiple years of scholarships to a student-athlete in advance — since 2012, but most schools continue not to offer them. This is strange because the NCAA’s reasoning for not paying student-athletes is that they are already receiving a free education.

If this is its argument, the NCAA should mandate that scholarships cover all four years so that student-athletes are guaranteed a full education.

When colleges across the country voted on this rule in 2012 to either survive or be overturned, 205 schools voted to get rid of the multi-year scholarships and only 125 voted to keep the rule, including Pitt. The action failed to overturn the rule because only 62.12 percent supported the repeal while 62.5 percent support was needed.

Simply put, it’s clear that the reason colleges aren’t providing student-athletes with scholarships isn’t out of concern for their education. Schools give and take away scholarships — whether they be single- or multi-year — on the basis of athletic rather than academic performance. And the student-athletes who rely on those scholarships deserve to be treated fairly by the universities they represent, meaning they should be guaranteed money for the time they dedicate to the programs.

If the NCAA doesn’t want to share the profits it makes with the student-athletes who rake in money for their programs, it should at the very least allow athletes to make profit off their own likeness.

Coaches receive the added benefit of being free to market themselves, meaning they can endorse products for compensation, but athletes cannot. Players aren’t even allowed to sell signed autographs.

The goal of competing in college athletics is to win, but the goal for university athletic administrators should also be to take care of their student-athletes.

Matthew primarily writes on politics and social issues in sports for The Pitt News.

Write to him at mas537@pitt.edu.

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