When colleges don’t pay players, agents are willing to trickle down some wealth
Multiple-choice news quiz topic: Name the country.
The ruling elites retain virtually all the wealth while establishing rules that keep the work force at subsistence level or even in debt until the workers flee the country.
Is it: a) Cuba b) North Korea c) NCAA d) all of the above
The answer, of course, is D. As a smart sports fan, you knew that while the NCAA doesn’t quite qualify as a country, its practices certainly put it on the global junior varsity, ready for whenever the United Nations has a roster opening at the position of monopolistic hegemony.
The aspiration toward despotic rule came up for renewed inspection lately due to a couple of stories.
This week, a new study from Ithaca College in New York disclosed that the average Division I student-athlete falls $2,951 short annually in school-related expenses not covered by the NCAA-standard scholarships. The phrase “full ride,” always a term of scorn in college-sports culture, is now proven to be phony.
A couple of weeks earlier, Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy feature on Josh Luchs, a sports agent for 20 years until he gave it up in despair and disgust, who confessed to paying at least 30 college players in violation of NCAA rules. The list included Ryan Leaf, Washington State’s former star quarterback, and two of his teammates from the 1997 Cougars Rose Bowl team.
The story of an agent paying players — eight confirmed the payments — was largely dismissed by many fans and media members, who seemed to give a world-weary shake of the head, as if to say, “This is news?”
Yet it came at a time when college football is tearing up its map solely in order to position conferences for greater TV revenues. It was happening while one of its most storied programs, USC, was thrown in the NCAA big house largely for not knowing or caring that one-time star running back Reggie Bush and his family were getting money from agents.
Post-sanctions, his former coach, Pete Carroll, defended himself and his school partly by saying the agent problem is a growing menace whose threat is little understood by the public and NCAA.
Luchs admits to paying players starting in the early 1990s. The University of Washington was busted for improper benefits to football players in the 1950s and in the 1990s. Just about every big-time school has had some similar punishment — the ones avoiding NCAA jail time just haven’t been caught — yet most fans are bewildered because the “misdeed” of getting paid for labor also happens to be the driving force of the American and world economy.
The agent who pays players isn’t a growing menace; it’s part of the college football and basketball tradition. The money is not to fix games, a one-time scourge that has dwindled; it’s money to live on for athletes who often come from poor families and who are regularly discouraged from working by coaches worried about a loss of training time.
The shame of the decades-old hypocrisy was underscored again by researchers at Ithaca’s Graduate Program in Sport Management, as well as the National College Players Association, an athlete advocacy group, based on data submitted by more than 300 schools to the U.S. Department of Education.
The study showed the expenses covered by a “full-ride” scholarship — tuition, room and board, student fees — rarely covered the costs of going to school.
The biggest offender was Arkansas-Little Rock, which in 2009 had a shortfall of nearly $11,000, The school denied the figure, saying it was closer to $4,100. Well, hey, that’s a help.
“It’s really deceptive to use the words ‘full scholarship,’” according to Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who heads the NCPA. “There’s never an explanation for recruited athletes that the price tag for attending school falls short of the scholarship amount. The price tag for attending school always exceeds the scholarship amount.”
The press release for the study said the biggest gap in the Pac-10 was at Arizona ($4,050) and the smallest at USC ($1,476) — obviously, a lot smaller in at least one proven case. The raw-dollar difference doesn’t take into account the difference in cost of living between cities such as Seattle and Pullman.
Followers of this column over the years know my stance: Pay the players.
Just about everywhere in global sports, including the Olympics for 30 years, amateurism has been abandoned as a dishonest, unfair practice. Only in American collegiate sports is there widespread acceptance. And now there is independent, documentary evidence that playing for a scholarship is not even a break-even proposition for the athlete who follows NCAA rules.
Yet nowhere in the recent national discussion of conference realignments for financial reasons has the issue come up of improving scholarship values, much less the payment of a stipend or wage. The topic has been a part of NCAA rules meetings, but it never gets out of committee.
At a time when tuition revenues are down, expenses are up and universities are eliminating sports programs to keep athletic departments afloat, it seems ludicrous to think of adding the expense of player salaries. But it’s not nearly as ludicrous as any claim that big-time football and basketball don’t generate enough revenue to do so.
It’s estimated that when the Pac-10 (soon-to-be 12) bids out its rights fees after the current TV contracts expire, the annual group take will go from more than $50 million to more than $150 million. And that will still be shy of the revenues in the Big Ten and SEC.
The money is there among schools. The impoverishment is there among players. Failure by the NCAA to resolve the misallocation of resources assures that the agents will be there to make up the difference. So the tradition continues.
Somewhere, Kim Jong-il is smiling.