Opinion | College athletes cashing in: Miami can expect problems, if players are payed
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 01:10
As Miami Athletic Director David Sayler sits at his desk, he looks down into his morning coffee to see if they’re still there.
Sure enough, the ripples on the surface aren’t going away. In fact, they’re getting bigger.
Something’s coming. Something big. And it can’t be good.
Mr. Sayler isn’t alone. All but a handful of his NCAA Division I cohorts are having similar Jurassic Park moments. Those who aren’t … well … they’re not paying attention.
The threat is no bipedal carnivore, but a growing movement to mandate that big-time college football and men’s basketball programs pay hefty salaries to scholarship players. Should this come to pass, Miami will find itself on the bottom floor of a two-tiered caste system with no means of improving its lot.
“What’s wrong with a top football player receiving an extra $50,000 a year?” Asked Pulitzer Prize winning author Taylor Branch at a UNC-sponsored panel discussion. “Or a top basketball player receiving an extra $200,000?”
Branch has been a central figure and movement crusader since publishing “The Shame of College Sports” (The Atlantic) in 2011.
Using figures compiled on 225 public universities by USA Today, only 22 athletic departments generate enough revenue to cover their expenditures without extra help. Miami is not among them. Of these, only 14 could afford to pay the kind of extra money Mr. Branch suggests, roughly $7 million per year.
With 8 percent year-over-year tuition inflation, it would be unconscionable to force students to pony up the difference. That leaves two options: additional state subsidies or bigger athletic booster contributions. Otherwise, Miami would have no choice but to accept its lot and settle into its new basement digs.
As it currently stands, Miami can and does find ways to woo top talent. But give one class of competitor the ability to sweeten the pie with monthly paychecks and no recruit will settle for a RedHawk jersey until he’s exhausted every option to play-for-pay.
Notwithstanding the impact on Miami athletics, there is a bigger question: Is professionalization the right thing to do?
After all, Mr. Branch and New York Times columnist Joe Nocera among others have likened the current system to plantation era slavery. Slavery?
Perhaps they haven’t seen the lavish facilities created for athletes who play for the big-time programs—not exactly slave quarters. And last I checked, college athletes—black, white and otherwise—are free to pack their bags and call it quits anytime they choose.
That wasn’t an option back on the plantation. Bottom line, the provocative reference is shamelessly absurd and while it may unnerve some would-be dissenters, it should offend the senses of every African-American who hears it.
Ironically, professionalizing the big-time programs could actually result in fewer scholarship opportunities for minority players.
Administrations are routinely asked to lower academic standards in order to admit desired recruits.
Make no mistake; this draws the ire of administrators, professors and more than a few alumni and students. In a two-caste system, this practice will likely come under greater scrutiny at non-paying schools. With fewer television dollars at stake for motivation, it could well come to a screeching halt.
Meanwhile, at paying schools, academic expectations will diminish—if not disappear—as athletes morph into full-time W-2 employees and part-time (at most) students. “Once players become university employees,” argues Dr. Richard Southall, Director of The College Sport Research Institute, “they shouldn’t even be required to be students.”
All this raises an important question: How will fans respond? They’re the wildcard.
No one can say for sure whether fans will derive the same satisfaction following an NFL-lite team with little more than a licensing relationship with the university. If not, we’ll have killed the goose that laid the golden egg, in which case everyone loses.
The movement has high-profile supporters and they’re having an impact.
A recent Time Magazine cover story (“It’s Time to Pay College Athletes”) confirms it. The discussion has gone mainstream and the ripples in Mr. Sayler’s coffee just got bigger.
Something’s coming, something big, and there’s nothing good about it.
David Bryan Magee is a writer, entrepreneur and former college football player. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC.