College Football’s Problems – One Down, Many to Go

Posted: June 27, 2012 in Football, NCAA
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Last evening, a presidential oversight committee approved a four-team college football playoff system that will begin in 2014 and run until 2025. Fans everywhere rejoiced over the burial of the uber-flawed Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and seemed genuinely excited for the implementation of this new system. While the creation of such system fixes one notable problem, it only highlights another: college football players not getting their fair share of the financial pie.

In the current BCS system, ESPN reportedly pays about $165 per year for the five BCS games. Experts anticipate the price of the rights for the new four-team playoff system, as well as the four other major bowls connected to the plan, to reach as much as $400 million to $500 million per season. Despite the potential 300% increase of television rights revenue alone, do you know how much of an increase college football players will see in their share? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Many people argue collegiate football players get a full-ride scholarship and that should be enough. Oh really? A recent ESPN the Magazine article noted the average FBS football program netted $164,000 of revenue per football player each year. The average scholarship was $27,000 a year. That’s a yearly gap of $137,000 per player! There are a lot of other students on campus who are also on full-ride scholarships that aren’t contributing to a multi-billion revenue stream… No one is paying the math students of the world $500 million a year to watch them perform their craft, but if they did, the math students would likely get a cut of such revenue. Isn’t that how things generally work in the real world? But when college football is involved, one must throw reality and logic out the window…

The NCAA and the powers that be have manipulated the system so everyone is getting rich but the workers (athletes) themselves. You say, “Well, the workers at the Apple Store don’t make more money simply because the company is!” But that’s simply a poor comparison. There are infinite amounts of people who are capable of working at an Apple Store, there are not infinite amounts of people who can play college football at a high level. There is a reason Tom Brady gets $20 million a year, it’s because his talent demands that on the open-market. No television network is going to pay a half-a-billion dollars to see ‘Joe Schmo’ throw a football around… Hypothetically speaking, because of their unique talents, athletes should have greater negotiating leverage than a worker at an Apple Store – just like other talent-rich, skilled professions do (surgeons, performers, actors).

But the NCAA hides behind this false, bullshit premise of ‘amateurism’. When asked why college football players are considered ‘amateurs’, the NCAA responses “because they don’t get paid”. Then when asked why they don’t get paid, the NCAA responses “because they are amateurs”. See the bullshit… The term ‘student-athlete’ was originally conceived by the NCAA to avoid workers compensation claims, but as the industry grew, the term became much more. You see, workers have rights. Student-athletes do not. If the NCAA could convince enough people that the laborers in this multi-billion dollar industry were nothing more than ‘student-athletes’, then the NCAA could enforce their own, self-promoting rules with little resistance. NCAA – 1. College Athletes – 0.

On top of that scheme, you now have the NCAA saying they are ‘looking into ways to create a $2,000 stipend for the football players’ – acting as if they are bending over backwards to do athletes a huge favor.  While any money would help, $2,000 out of the aforementioned $137,000 represents less than 2% – not exactly a huge piece of the pie. More like a crumb to appease the critics for a while. While conference commissioners, collegiate administrators, and collegiate coaches have all had skyrocketing salaries over the past 15 years, there is one group being cut out of the increases – the athletes.

The fallacy of the athletic scholarship is one of the greatest travesties of all. Essentially, an athletic scholarship is a year-to-year renewable contract between a university and the individual player. Only it doesn’t even cover the entire year… And coaches don’t have to renew it if a player doesn’t play well… And the student-athlete is not allowed to walk away without repercussion while a university can.

You see, most college football players get a monthly scholarship check (for housing, food, and personal expenses) from late August to early December, and then again from the end of January to early May. If you don’t make a bowl game, you go without a scholarship check to cover your expenses from early December until school resumes in late January. If a university chooses not to pay for a ‘student-athletes’ summer school, even though summer workouts/conditioning are ‘voluntarily mandatory’, a player won’t get a scholarship check in May, June, July, or August (until school starts). This full-ride scholarship can essentially be trimmed down to about 7 or 8 ‘living expense’ checks a year, all around $1000 each. Sadly, an average collegiate football player – one who is part of a multi-billion dollar industry – may only get $7,000-8000 a year to cover all his living, food, and personal expenses. That’s not right.

There is plenty of money to go around, it’s just going to the wrong people. Everyone but the talent themselves is lining their pockets off the backs of these young, defenseless individuals. No one gives a shit when a head coach makes $5 million a season… But when an athlete sells his bowl ring so he can eat over the summer, he is portrayed as ‘everything wrong with college athletics’. No. That’s not the case! The broken, exploitative nature of big-time college athletic is what is truly wrong. It is time to fix it. The long-talked about stipend is a step in the right direction, but getting a seat for the ‘student-athlete’ at the big boy’s table is the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, until college football players get a chance to represent their great value at the bargaining table, athletes will simply have to settle for being the star-powered labor force that gets everyone else rich. That’s that.

*Don’t forget to continue sending questions, thoughts, concerns, and/or rants to or The Battered Fan’s Facebook Page  for Friday’s mailbag*

  1. Jayson says:

    Nice article, but theres a can of worms you should open up while you are on this topic. Thats the fact that, scholarship or not, when 90% of these football players graduate, the chances of them finding a good job is highly unlikely. Besides being really good at following directions and being puntual, their isn’t really a trained skill that football players can carry over to everyday life.
    I was a white scholarship football player at a major university that had opportunities to play in the nfl. When i decided to hang up the cleats, i struggled to find a job that paid well and that wasn’t in sales and that paid my bills. I felt lost and robbed, and I’m a white guy with a college degree! Then i have my former black teammates, who for the most part are unemployed or are working at a youth center making less than 20k a year. Battered fan, you are not a regular student athlete, you are the exception, so you might not be able to relate this.
    So instead of a 2k stipend, or sharing part of the money with the players, why not help these players find a job? Or help them develop a trade? Give a man 2k and he’ll eat for a month, teach him how to make 2k and eat for a like time, get what I’m saying?
    Don’t focus on the money, but rather preparing football players for life after football.

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