The debate continues as to whether student athletes should or should not be paid. I have stood very firm that college athletes are getting paid with a college education, a meal plan, housing and the best medical care that money can buy. In the long run, a college education from an accredited university is worth much more than a few dollars here and there between the ages of 18 and 22. Many of those in favor of paying college athletes point out that athletic departments are just rolling in cash. Nothing could be further from the truth. In all reality, most athletic departments are struggling to keep certain sports active Year in and year out we hear about lacrosse, rowing and even baseball teams being cut because the expenses are too high. Why does the common public think athletic departments are making so much cash?
Perception is Reality
In sports, and all walks of life, perception is reality. Sports fans see figures like Johnny Manziel or Andrew Wiggins on TV every weekend. There are panoramic shots of stadiums or basketball courts and hundreds of fans are wearing the student athlete’s jersey. TV networks pay big bucks to broadcast the Texas A&M vs Alabama game so why can’t Johnny Football and his teammates get a cut of this money? The same is true when it comes to March Madness. With CBS Sports and Turner Sports signing a $10.8 billion contract to broadcast March Madness why can’t these college basketball stars like Andrew Wiggins get just a small cut?
This is the mindset of many sports fans that don’t understand the numbers behind running an athletic department. For every Johnny Manziel there are five backup QBs at Texas A&M that will never see the field. Texas A&M has to treat all five of these backup QBs just the same. If they tear an ACL or suffer an injury Texas A&M foots the bill for their medical costs. Texas A&M will also pay to feed and house these individuals for up to five years. This is just the football program. There are countless non revenue generating sports that cost just as much for a university.
Non Revenue Generating Sports
I live approximately 2 miles from the University of North Carolina. In the 2012-13 sports season UNC won three national championships. Not a single program that won a national championship made a penny for UNC. In fact, they ended up costing UNC money because of travel, cost of equipment and a plethora of other expenses. The women’s soccer, women’s tennis and women’s lacrosse programs brought home the hardware but they did not bring home the paycheck.
The UNC women’s soccer program has amassed 21 national championships. They are, by far and away, the best women’s soccer program in the history of the sport. That said, UNC does not charge admission to go to a women’s soccer game at Fetzer Field. They know about 15 fans would show up if a fee was charged. While attending a women’s lacrosse game, at UNC, fans will see no more than a few hundred in the stands. Out of these few hundred about 75% are friends and family of the players. If a game happens to be played on a weeknight the attendance drops below triple digits.
I point this out because these are student athletes just like the big time college football and college basketball players. If you are going to pay student athletes you have to pay them all. How is that going to sit on campus if the Heisman trophy winner is getting a weekly stipend of $250 and the third string women’s lacrosse attacker is getting $250 per week? Some have argued that the stipend needs to be based on revenue. Welcome to Title IX folks. We are all equal in college sports. Women and men receive the same benefits no matter what.
You Simply Cannot Pay College Athletes
I love college athletics as much, if not more, than any other person. I consume four to five college sporting events every week. From soccer to field hockey to lacrosse to track & field, I am there. I enjoy nothing more than seeing young athletes play the game because they love the game. It has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do with fame. It has everything to do with the thrill of victory.
This stat cements student athletes never being paid. The NCAA tracks graduation rates for every sport. A sport that has no professional sports league and no way to make money (besides coaching) after college happens to lead the NCAA in graduation rate. Women’s lacrosse has a graduation rate of 98.6%. That means nine out of ten young women that are playing college lacrosse right now will walk away with a college degree and do something with their lives. They play for the love of the game, not the money.