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No Pay for Play in College

It’s as reliable as the sunrise, silly tweets from the President and a horrible customer-to-cashier ratio at the grocery store.

Whenever a major college sports scandal breaks out, the response falls into two lines.  Those who are NOT fans of Decadent U. wring their hands in glee, awaiting the executioners axe with the zeal of a medieval peasant drunk on mead.  Or at least a post-season ban.  Those who root for Decadent U. clutch pearls and wear out their pointing fingers; reminding us that “everyone does it!”

Hmm…this is sounding suspiciously like the respective reactions over any given political scandal.  But I digress.

In college sports, there is an additional layer of whataboutism that is often cited in times like these—where Louisville loses a Hall of Fame basketball coach and UNC somehow is forgiven for 20 years of systemic academic fraud.  That is the specter of “paying the players.”

The argument goes that if the players were given an agreed-upon stipend, that all of the corruption would magically disappear.  Because if there is one thing history has demonstrated is that people who are paid money NEVER do anything wrong.

college stadium           Jokes aside, the push behind all this is the assertion that the athletes are unpaid contractors who enable universities, and their surrounding communities, to reap millions and millions of dollars.  There is a subsection of arguments that takes this a step further, arguing the athletes are being exploited.  A more nefarious subset of people bring up the images of plantations—and all that it implies.  But is there a victim here?

Division-one College Football recruits freely enter into a private agreement with a University.  They agree to perform a task for the university in exchange for free education, room and board, tutoring, medical care, equipment, supplies and God-knows-what-else.

Let’s do some math.  Depending on your source, the average out-of-state tuition at most major colleges runs in the neighborhood of $30,000.  Most division-one football players spend five years on campus.  So we start off with $150,000 up front.  That includes all of the room and board, books and such.

In addition, athletes are provided with every piece of equipment they will need to compete.  That includes a seemingly-endless supply of free shoes, which run well over $100 these days.  There are also miscellaneous bits of equipment and clothing that they get to keep.  We’ll conservatively place this value at $5,000.

Not covered in a regular student’s room and board is the limitless access to tutors that athletes have—not to mention unfettered access to state-of-the-art training equipment and the like.  Hard to put a dollar value on that.  Let’s conservatively guess $10,000.

Now let’s say Jimmy Football blows out his knee.  He gets free arthroscopic surgery and rehab; plus anything else required to recover.  I have no idea how much this would cost.  In addition, if the injury is career-ending, most colleges will keep him on scholarship to allow him to complete his degree.

Suffice to say there is no way to accurately tally what a college football player gets in return for his services; but it’s not chicken feed.  These benefits are clearly known when each high school football stud signs a letter of intent to play college football.

More important than the tangible benefits behind this arrangement is this.  The colleges are offering the athletes a chance.  A chance at a college degree which will greatly improve their future earning potential outside of the sports arena.  A chance many of the athletes may not have had if they were not athletically gifted.  Whether or not the athletes take advantage of that chance is entirely up to them.

It is much like life.  We are given various opportunities to reach our goals.  Some are obvious—others are not.  But in each case; our success or failure is almost entirely determined by the choices we make.

The university and the athlete are entering into what could be a mutually-beneficial agreement.  Since both sides now the terms going in, it seems to me that there is no “victim” here.  This is a voluntary exchange of labor for benefits.

By my most conservative estimate, college scholarship athletes get 200-to-250 thousand dollars worth of benefits during their stay on campus.  That is significantly more than the entry-level salaries many of their classmates can expect to receive their first few years after graduation.

So to those who argue we should pay college athletes, I submit that we already are.  Handsomely.  It is entirely up to them if they want to reap the full benefits of that years after the cheers have faded.

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