First off, I don’t care about college sports, but I do care about college athletes.
I don’t have a “team,” and I’ve never been to a game. However, that does not take away from the fact that people are placing themselves into a brutal arena, unpaid for the work they do, for the sake of entertainment.
Athletes are working 40 hours a week minimum at their sport — a full-time job on top of classes. They are limited by schedules and practices. Athletes cannot control their image, endorse products or receive payment for autographs unlike other “amateurs." This arbitrary rule is enforced across sports, not just the money-makers like football or basketball.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has been in and out of the headlines for constant scandals — some of which include colleges offering money or sponsorships under the table, Colorado University’s egregious offerings of booze and sex to get prospective athletes to sign and the multi-million dollar contracts for coaches.
However, while some athletes have access to excellent programs, reduced food costs and partial to full scholarships, some say it is not enough.
Many coaches and athletic directors argue that colleges are “paying” athletes $125,000 a year through scholarships and access to trainers and support. This is misleading and willfully misunderstands how funds are allocated to athletes.
Portland Trailblazer Shabazz Napier described his experience as a college point guard in an op-ed piece published in the Guardian in 2014, saying, “We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in...Sometimes, there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities.”
If students are lucky enough to come from money, to have a support system, then they have the ability to live comfortably. However, without those privileges, providing for oneself every day can be a real struggle.
At four-year schools, one in five students was classified as “very insecure,” according to a 2016 study by the National Student Campaign against Hunger. Some schools provide discounted food plans, others expect students to pay their way.
The other looming issue is health care. If a student-athlete is injured severely enough, they could stand to lose their scholarships and pay mounting hospital bills.
The system as it stands is allowing too many student-athletes exposed to exploitation or susceptible to physical and financial harm with no safety net. However, when the issue of paying athletes arises, it stems from frustration over scandal, nothing gets done and the furor dies down.
Look, I’m talking from a standpoint of the college athletics department’s $4.7 million in debt to the University of New Mexico. I’m well aware that colleges cannot afford to pay their athletes. According to Andrew Zimbalist, the resident sports economist of Smith College, only approximately 20 of the 350 Division I athletic departments make any profit.
College sports are lucrative business.
In 2016 Coach Bob Davie increased his salary by $50,000, making his annual salary $422,690. In 2016, NCAA made $900 million on the airing of March Madness, $9.2 billion in bets made — and the athletes made absolutely nothing.
It’s complicated, but solutions do exist.
We could cap salaries given to coaches and athletic directors, who are the highest paid individuals in 40 of the 50 states. We can offer lifelong health insurance to student-athletes, and allow them sponsorships and control of their image.
Those are manageable steps that move in the right direction.
If you’re interested in this issue, I would recommend reading the New York Times sports business columnist, Joe Nocera, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed for the Guardian.
This is not just a money issue. It’s cultural. Compensation is not the long-term goal. We have to strive to provide a solid education and future for all students.
Danielle Prokop is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. The opinions in this column are her own. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.