It's About Time We Pay College Athletes and Get Them Off the NCAA's Plantation

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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Texas schools earn a couple of mentions in Taylor Branch's explosive article "The Shame of College Sports" in the current Atlantic Monthly.

Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-wining civil rights movement historian, piles shame upon shame in calling for an end to the ludicrous fraud of amateur athletics in America's colleges and universities. He cites the work of sports economist Andrew Zimbalist to show that the very concept of a "student-athlete" playing as a volunteer to improve his or her mind and body, rather than as an employee, was a legal dodge in the first place. The universities wanted to foil claims by paralyzed athletes seeking workman's compensation.

One of the most egregious examples involved Texas Christian University. After running back Kent Waldrep was paralyzed in a game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on October 26, 1974, TCU paid his medical bills for nine months, then cut him loose. Well, you know, the Lord had to take away Adam's scholarship, too.

Throughout the 1990s Waldrep sued TCU for workman's comp. In June 2000 an appeals court finally tossed his suit after TCU officials testified under oath they had recruited Waldrep as a student, not to play football for them.

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A popular song during Schutze's days playing college ball
In the Atlantic article, Branch offers many stomach-turning instances of bold-faced dishonesty by colleges and universities to preserve the legal fiction that college sports is not a hugely profitable business enterprise built on the backs of heavily recruited but unpaid star performers.

The second mention of a Texas school cuts a bit the other way. Branch argues that the NCAA has lost any will whatsoever to impose true discipline on its member schools for fear the schools may start running their own playoffs and keep the TV money to themselves. That would threaten the NCAA's billion-dollar profits and a life of private jets, opulent headquarters and star treatment that the money buys for the organization.

Branch also brings up what happened to Southern Methodist University in 1987, when its football program received the dreaded NCAA "death penalty" sanction for recruiting violations. In the current atmosphere, the violations that brought SMU low and left a lifelong stain on the legacy of former Governor Bill Clements, chairman of the school's board during the scandal, probably would earn it a slap on the wrist, Branch suggests.

He wants to see college athletes freed up to bargain collectively or solo for the best compensation deals they can get. In the current set-up, mainly black kids make huge profits for mainly white people and then get the back of the hand if they slip up or even lose momentum.

Branch says college athletes are not quite slaves, "Yet to survey the scene -- corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as 'student-athletes' deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution -- is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation."

I think he's right about that. The problem is, that's the whiff the alumni like best.


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45 comments
A Different Perspective
A Different Perspective

I would just like to mention (even though no one is going to read this or care) that it really ticks me off that I have to pay such a large portion of my associated fees for college to the "athletics fees" when I don't give a hoot about ANY of the sports programs.

I am a full time college student, earning a degree in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, and Bioinformatics, which means if I am taking the typical four courses per semester, that puts me PHYSICALLY IN CLASS for ~25-30 hours a week!  For every class I take that includes a lab, which is all of them because I am a science major, I have to be on campus an additional 3 hours PER CLASS a week.  Compared to non-science majors who spend the regular 12 hours per semester for a full load in classes per week, this is incredibly time consuming.  I am a weekend waitress to pay my bills and I work in the ER for ten hours stretches two days during the school week to get the experience I need so that I can get into medical school when I'm finished.  I am not complaining, because this is my CHOICE.  School is hard?  The fact that my school charges me somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 dollars a semester in "athletics fees" is ridiculous; I've never attended a game, nor do I intend to.  If we made college athletes "employees" of the schools and paid them a salary, it would only come from revenue generated from hard working students like myself, who work multiple jobs AND get through challenging programs, somehow finding the time to balance everything and be successful.  If a student is unequipped to balance these demands, then maybe they shouldn't be in college in the first place.  Maybe the real issue here should be whether or not we are allocating the appropriate resources to make sure that everyone receives a fair and equal education BEFORE they get to college so that they have their best chance at being successful in life.  Chances are fairly limited that most college athletes will go on to sign with the pros (a known fact), and in any case, they should be prepared for the real world that awaits them.  If a person makes the choice to play sports in college, there will always be a chance they could become injured.  That same student could also choose to be accepted at a school on their own merit and play sports WITHOUT all the associated scholarships; that way, if they were preforming poorly at the sports level, it wouldn't matter, because being a student comes first, and not keeping your athletic scholarship.  After all, aren't we actually at college for the education?  The football team at my school sucks.  In fact, I think all of our sports teams are awful.  That being said, I would be fine with paying them a salary if ALL of the benefits athletes receive were transferred off of the backs of hardworking students and were directly proportional to the amount of revenue said sports team generates in profits from the events.  They should be COMPLETELY self funded.  And if no profit is generated, the athletes should have to pay the deficit, because that is how things work in the real world.  Money is a finite resources, and at the end of the day, everyone has to balance their books.  Every time a player gets a scholarship, to me it only equates to less money for academic resources for my school, and more money out of my pocket.  Those scholarships should and could go to students more deserving who have worked academically to EARN it.  If they all just want to play sports and get exposure to the pros, why not start a separate minor league for kids out of high school and pay them there.  Get them off our campuses and stop wasting resources for people who really want to learn, and whose main purpose in college is such.  Why does everyone think they should be compensated for EVERYTHING these days?  What happened to playing because you loved the game?  

Steph2411
Steph2411

Great article! It seems it's time college athletes should be paid. The NCAA has held down this racket for a long time. If they don't change, more than $2,000 per year, they're going to fall. The debate over at TC Huddle got me thinking about this. I wondered what other people were saying and found your opinion.

Thanks for the post! Enjoyed it. Here's the article that led me here if you're curious: http://www.tchuddle.com/2011/0...

Perry Moore
Perry Moore

"Red" voters? Mr. The Stig reduces our political options to a choice between two colors on a mythical graph. Of course, that's the way we're channeled to think in the two party system. As a purple (OK, sometimes pink) voter, I remain continually amused at the characterizations that "blue" and "red" thinkers thrust upon their counterparts of other "colors." I can't help but wonder what color blind people think of Plano ISD's football facilities.

ExTarHeel
ExTarHeel

I always hoped I would get a black Isuzu Rodeo like half of the UNC football team had under Mack Brown.

Halldecker
Halldecker

An incredible article,  available on-line,  26 pages single-spaced when dl'd to Word.

Much ado about Texas schools moving to the Southeast Conference.  They should be careful,  it's unlikely they have the money to compete in recruiting.

Jdshookshot
Jdshookshot

There is a very simple solution-high school football players, like high school basketball players going to the NBA, should be able to go directly to the NFL.  Also, no one is forcing anyone to go play football on a scholarship-get a job in the real world if you think this is unfair.

Common Sense

Rooster
Rooster

I'm so sick of hearing about how these clowns aren't "compensated".

They ARE fucking compensated - they have a chance at a FREE education, which the last time I checked wasn't exactly something to sneeze at.

My sister is going to pay $60,000 this year for my nephew to attend Southern Methodist University.  With tuition increases, etc., the total bill for his education will be around $300,000.

How many minor league players (excluding bonus babies) sign a 4 year, $300k deal?

If said student athelete is stupid enough to CHOOSE underwater basket weaving as a major during their tenure, then they get what they get - the same as any NON-ATHLETE student would.

All students are allowed to,and do, make stupid decisions. The fact some jagoff can carry a football doesn't exempt him from this rule.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Jim,stop doing so much research and fact checking on sports. That's not required in the Sportatorium.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

You want them to pay for european royals? That could get pricey.

Dallas May
Dallas May

Yeah, then we can officially turn these schools into NFL minor leagues. Too bad we have things like Title 9. Under that Law, schools would have to pay an equal amount of money to girl athletes as the guy athletes. So... how exactly does that work out? 

By the way, how does paying players work with Division II and Division III schools, where the student athletes aren't allowed to have ANY compensation, not even scholarships? 

scottindallas
scottindallas

I'd like to see all of the lower programs brought into the elementary schools. Why should money be a factor in a kids ability to play sports? Whereas, I think you make a valid point about the exclusive Varsity sports for just an exclusive few. I'd like to see intramural expanded, even giving the school's winners the ability to compete against other schools.

Bob C
Bob C

Why stop at college athletes.  Why not pay high scool athletes too?  They could get hurt, etc. I was a scholarship football palyer, and I felt that the scholarship, food, room, books, etc. was plenty good.  I got hurt my junior year.  I stayed on schoalrship until I graduated, and coached my last 2 years.  Now, Tulsa University could have dumped me, but they did not.   They did the right thing.  I think schools should be obligated to thr student athlete for as long as that student athlete is a member in good standing with the University.  It should not be dependent on their playing status.  If a kid is stupid enough to blow away a free education, they cannot be helped.

Dickie Smythe
Dickie Smythe

What is the point of this article?  It reads like a book report for an article someone else wrote.  This entire conversation is stupid and off-base in any event...college athletes will never get paid.  There is too much history against it, too many arguments that they already get compensated in other ways (tuition, books, etc if they have a scholarship), and THE BIG ONE is that men's football/basketball are not the only sports.  Are schools really going to pay swimmers or volleyball players.  NO.

MattL1
MattL1

I'm pretty sure paying college athletes would create just as many problems as not paying them does, just a whole host of different ones.  

JimS
JimS

I still say, if you don't want to hire them, you don't have to. Then you can have an all-white team and lose.

Paul
Paul

It is about time for this fiction of "student athletes" and "scholarship" to end.

At private universities (Baylor, SMU, TCU, etc.) the tuition fees are about as real as the MSRP on a new vehicle.  Depending on your situation, you may receive a 10%, 20%, 50% or even a free ride on tuition, but someone else is paying full freight.  These types of universities look at setting their "tuition rates" and then actually have a goal of the average student is paying X% of the full rate.  Basically, the students who receive a discount, ahem "scholarship" are receiving nothing more than a transfer payment from someone else.  There are the so called "endowed scholarships" but the yield from these is often so burdened with overhead that very little yield actually goes to someone's tuition.

In obtaining grants for funded research, the overhead rate is rarely less than 100% and is usually in the 200% to 300% range.

People talk about the "student athletes" getting a free education.  Well this is nothing more than the effluvia from a bovine south end.  First off the degrees usually are something that meets the minimum accreditation requirement for awarding a bachelor's degree of some sort.  It usually is something like "communications".  That and when you consider the time that the student puts into the athletic program, the hourly rate is below minimum wage.

The tuition that these students are charged is the full freight rate.  If they do not complete the degree in 4 years of eligibility, they lose their scholarship and are essentially tossed out.

When they are enrolled the priority is the athletic program.  The athletic departments expect and demand that the faculty make all kinds of allowances for the student-athlete.

I've actually seen student athletes who had sub 1000 SAT scores at schools that state the minimum SAT score is 1200.  In case you are not aware, you get 800 for signing your name.

As far as I am concerned, college football is the minor league system for the NFL.

College football is solely about the money.  Nothing more and nothing less.

As someone from Rice told me: "Rice is in the SWC because we receive $12M in TV revenues per year.  We spend $2M on the team.  Besides we need an excuse to have the MOB."

Observist
Observist

Yes, this is clearly a racial exploitation issue.  In order to rectify it, athletic scholarships should be given by race, proportional to the racial composition of the total student body and faculty.  Then all those poor black kids would be freed from the shackles of college athletics that have hindered their pursuits of life, liberty and hapiness.

JimS
JimS

O.K., now Duckduck has really pissed me off. I am hereby callling for an end to all sports, college, professional or otherwise, to be replaced by mandatory ballet attendance. Enforcement by the federal government. In fact, an end to local government. In fact an end to everything, damn it!

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

Also, Mr Schultze, please refer to your article Tue., Sep. 6 2011 at 2:50 PM

Go, Local College Sports Team! (Um, Doesn't Mayor Mike Have Anything Better to Do?)

Your comments about college football: "I never learned the rules, so I don't know what they're doing. I watch it sometimes for about five minutes to see if anybody is going to get knocked out cold."

Once again, if you don't know anything about college sports (or sports in general) then leave columns like this to others. Thank you.

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

Let's imagine we can pay every college athlete $100,000 a year.  All sports, male / female.

That will solve things, by eliminating the "stomach-turning instances of bold-faced dishonesty", right? 

Nope. As soon as that was in place, Big State U will start paying certain athletes $200,000 under the table to gain an advantage.

Why doesn't the Pulitzer Prize winning Mr Branch propose something that is outside of the college system entirely?  Let those who feel a four (five, in many cases) year education is not sufficient for the effort involved just leave college and go straight to the pros. Either the big leagues or some yet-to-be-invented minor league system for football and basketball ...

If you're going to propose something that will never happen, why not aim high?

JimS
JimS

Taylor Branch doesn't say anybody has to pay them. He just says let them bargain for pay. Any university can say no.

Perry Moore
Perry Moore

If we are going to pay every athlete that makes money for someone else, shouldn't we investigate high school athletics, also? After all, school districts charge admission to football games, football coaches that win make more money than those that lose, and recruiting services aren't working for the fun of it. Come to think of it, I used to pay my children when they got a hit in baseball or an "A" in the classroom. Hell, let's do away with the "amateur" tag completely. Unless they are no-talent benchwarmers like I was, let's just call them slaves, I mean, athletes.

ChrisU
ChrisU

way too much money involved for anybody to be pretending it's all about academics.also,aren't the universities a free farm system for the NFL, maybe they should also be compensating?

Guest
Guest

You know theworld doesn't start and end with football, right? The vast majority of collegeathletes (including football players) receive far more "compensation"than they could earn anywhere else playing their sport. Free education, food,shelter, medical care, books, etc. The value of that well exceeds $50,000 ayear. This doesn't include perks that can't be bought, e.g., enrolmentpriority, ability to attend an institution that otherwise wouldn't give them asecond look, etc. How much do you think the average college athlete could makeas a "pro" in his sport of choice? The vast majority couldn't make adime.

I say thisnot to belittle athletes, or to say the system is fair. I just don't know whatyou want schools to do? Do we only pay the 1% of athletes that could make moremoney playing in the pros than they are already receiving as college athletes?What about the women (99.9% of which already receive far more than they couldas a "pro")? Do we just bite the bullet and pay them all even thoughmost already are "over paid"? How much? Do we have a completely freemarket where colleges bid on athletes?

It's easy tobelieve that the system takes advantage of college athletes. It certainly doestake advantage of a select few. But those numbers are dwarfed by the number ofcollege athletes taking advantage of the system (properly so). An easy answerescapes me.

Casual Observer
Casual Observer

If we don't need a federal government, why do we need an NCAA?

Heywood U Buzzoff
Heywood U Buzzoff

I thought the NCAA should review the graduation rates of seniors and that the teams should lose one scholarship that they can hand out for every senior who does not graduate.  At least that way the schools would make a bit of an effort to get the 'student athletes' a diploma, even if they can not read them.

SCamp
SCamp

Don't knock underwater basketweaving. Not near as easy as you make it out to be. Holding your breath, getting chlorine in your eyes and weaving a straw basket? Let's se YOU do that.

Anonymous
Anonymous

That's the whole point. Either they are paid and are employees of the university, or they are students who happen to also play a sport. But if they get a football scholarship and decide to major in chemistry, and the studying, lab sessions, etc get in the way of practice, how long do you think they will have that scholarship? The point is to drop the pretense. You also probably need to check your math. $60k times 4 years isn't $300k.

JimS
JimS

Dickie: stay away from reading.

Observist
Observist

The NCAA rules, as arbitrary and byzantine as they may be, are precisely why college football and basketball are vastly more popular than minor league sports.  Even though it's a big business, most of the players come from in-state, most of them will not play in the pros, and they still need to meet vestigal academic requirements in order to play.  It's the notion, however illusory, of "our guys" playing for the glory of our University.  Start paying them, and it's just "some guys" playing for money for some rich owner guy... it's arena football, Canadian football, D-league basketball, minor league hockey, USFL, and all those other second-rate pro leagues people ignore(d).   On the other hand, if you made college football much more like high school, say, eliminated athletic scholarships altogether, banned athletic recruitment of HS players, and forced schools to pick players from the body of students admitted under regular university standards, the overall level of play would go way down but I bet it would be nearly as popular with fans as it is now. 

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

Oh, where can we begin ... Division I football and (men's) basketball are usually 100% tuition, books, fees, room and board.   The partial scholarships are usually 'non revenue' like baseball, volleyball, swimming, etc.

Student athletes can work towards any undergraduate degree that fits their sports practice schedule. Sure, it might make it tough to combine a sport with some degrees, but if the student has the drive and the educational skills, they are not limited to the 'basket weaving' type majors.   There are plenty of pre-med, communications, business, math, pre-law degrees earned by NCAA scholarship athletes.

Many schools allow 5 years to earn a degree and it can be all covered by scholarship. That varies greatly by school, of course, but saying "4 years and thats it" is not accurate.

Rice still has the MOB. They've not been in the SWC for a long time. I don't get the connection.

JimS
JimS

So, Duckduck, may I assume that you have no opinions about the ballet?

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Is this the same Taylor Branch who received President Clinton's oral histories and wrote "The Clinton Years"?

If so, this book just hit my "gotta read" list.

Thanks, Jim.

scottindallas
scottindallas

You commendable post fails to acknowledge that many of these athletes ARE paid. It's just all under the table, and if hurt many are left with neither and education nor the full use of their bodies

Rooster
Rooster

If a normal student gets a job to pay for tuition and decides to major in chemistry, and the studying, lab sessions, etc get in the way of THEIR job, how long do you think THEY will be able to stay in school?

The point is no one feels the need to coddle regular students.

You also probably need to check your reading comprehension.  I mentioned "tuition increases, etc." in the $300k figure.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Give me a break. It's big business, it's not education. How much money in taxes do they pay? Oh right, none, because universities are non-profit. I agree w/ your assessment of the diminished interest if college athletes were paid, but prolonging the illusion doesn't justify the system.

Paul
Paul

"Student athletes can work towards any undergraduate degree that fits their sports practice schedule."

That pretty much settles it that they are there for the sports and not the education.

I've seen it from the scholastic side and it is not pretty.

I've worked with a number of student athletes and it was pretty clear as to the reason why they were there.  They were generally good kids and it was a true joy to be a teacher to some of them.

As for Rice and the MOB, nobody has been in the SWC for a long, long time.  The point was the football program at Rice was plainly done as a revenue generator for the school.

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

My ballet opinions?  They are athletes, it's hard work, some of the ballerinas are ultra-hot, and the guys look like they should be able to dunk with ease.

I have been to a few ballet performances in my life.

Feel free to take some shots at me when I start blogging about what ballet dancers and ballet companies should or should not do.  Until that happens ... what brought up the ballet?

Guest
Guest

Chemists make tons of money for schools.  Have you looked at the patent portfolios of major universities?

Rooster
Rooster

So a dancer or chemist whose performances/research secures a grant or endowment for the school doesn't make money for the school?

If a football player CHOOSES to screw around, drink, party, and not to get an education while he is in college, that is the same exact choice many, many, many, many other non-athelete college students have made for hundreds of years.

You get out of a college education what you put into it.  This rule is true for all students and does not change just because you can carry a football.

The football is just the crutch that makes people THINK the rule doesn't apply.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Dancers and chemists don't make money for the school though, and therefore I think you can make a reasonable case that they are not employees in this strictest sense. Colleges make money from the labor of football players, which is more or less the dividing line between employment and something you do for your own benefit. Obviously we just disagree. There's also the fact that football players are not getting an education - exceptions are being made for them in the classroom.

Rooster
Rooster

You've mistaken which one of us is "confused".  Our arguments are not the same.

You think they are paid employees.  I think they are students on scholarship.  

Just like ALL students on scholarship, they are required to provide something relating to their skill (i.e. - the reason for their scholarship) to the university in order to maintain their good standing.

If a chemistry scholar has a beaker blow up in his face while doing research to benefit the university, he's not going to get "worker's comp and other compensation".  It's going to be viewed as a tragic accident, and then said scholar may/may not be able to continue.

The same could be said for a dance scholar.  If she blows a knee out during a school performance, she's not going to get "worker's comp and other compensation".

College students are not perpetual victims.  Shit will often happen to you in life related to what you CHOOSE to do. 

If you CHOOSE to be a football player, you may get hurt.  If you CHOOSE to be a dance scholar, you may blow out a knee.  If you CHOOSE to be a chemistry scholar, a beaker may blow up in your face.

The only difference is no one feel the need to coddle a chemistry or dance scholar.

Anonymous
Anonymous

what's in the etc? tuition increases within the course of a normal college career do not increase by the amount of a single year's tuition.also, are we really arguing different sides of this debate regarding whether they are paid? my argument (and yours) is that they are paid employees of the college, subject to loss of income if they fail to perform, for any reason, whether it be schedule, injury, loss of interest, etc. the colleges do not take that stance for legal reasons. read the article if you are still confused. in your example of an off campus job, if you worked at a factory as your side job in college and someone drops a pallet full of materials on you and paralyzes you, they owe you worker's comp and other compensation. there was always a risk when you took that job, but it still entitles you to compensation. the college provide no such compensation when you are injured on the job as a college athlete. this whole issue is about colleges coming to terms with the fact that they are employers that should be subject to the rules of the rest of the business world.

ChrisU
ChrisU

well was Herschel Walker fairly compensated by the Fort Worth Ballet?

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