When I was a young boy, every Christmas I would receive gifts from my aunts, uncles, cousins, and godparents. The best ones were from our grandma (straight cash, homie). After every Christmas, my mom would grab me by the ear (true story) and drag me over to our dining room table. While there, I would try my hardest to write in legible words "Thank You" to each and every person who spent the money to pay for my new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy or LEGO set. It would take all of five minutes, but I dreaded it every time.
In light of all the talk about Under Armour forking out major dough to UCLA ($280M in fact), I decided to give my completely unbiased opinion on the state of "pay for play" everybody has been clamoring about. It was the main topic of discussion yesterday on KXNO's "Sports Fanatics" with Ross Peterson and Chris Williams, (you can listen here) and it got my blood boiling over this much-debated topic.
Some people say that NCAA student-athletes deserve to get paid extra money for representing their universities and colleges, but I'm going to go with my instinct on this one—saddle up, partner!
College Life and Personal Responsibility
Today, the term "student-athlete" gets stretched more than Michael Jordan's arm in the movie Space Jam. After UConn won the National Championship two years ago, their star player, Shabazz Napier, complained to reporters that he went to bed some nights "starving." Once that hit the newswires, I knew something would happen. Eight days after the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament said he couldn't afford food, the NCAA stepped in and proposed a new rule providing unlimited meals and snacks to all athletes.
Little does everyone know, athletes are already given three meals per day or a stipend for those meals. What happened to that stipend you got, Shabazz?
More importantly, what happened to personal responsibility? College is a place for people to learn and gain maturity. To budget their money. To learn time management. To understand how to live on your own. There were times in college where I went by with hot dogs and Easy Mac, but you don't see me or every other non-student-athlete asking for handouts.
But how much is enough? First the college athletes want money for food. Then they will want a stipend for gas. Next, it is going to be, "I need money for clothes, because I can't afford them." These colleges weren't provided for you to suck off the teat for a new pair of Jordans. How about you spend the money that was given to you for food and not jewelry or spinner rims for your "tricked out ride?"
Maybe they should buy you a pen and paper so you can write a THANK YOU note instead.
Some Numbers to Chew On
Depending on the college or university you attend, the average "student athlete" reaps between $100,000 to $250,000 in free money from scholarships. Some students are redshirted and then medically redshirted, so they have five, sometimes six years of tuition-free living. Many athletes, who know the full repercussions when they signed up to play, have been injured in their respective field of play. They are often covered for every single penny of medical costs they incur.
Oh yeah, don't forget the free books, rent in the best apartments, all the free apparel you want, and the fact that you get to play the role of "Big Man on Campus."
According to the NCAA, as of 2014, there are 450,000 student-athletes that compete across all sports. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the United States Department of Labor reports there are 13,800 professional athletes in the U.S. By my calculation, only 3.1% of those college athletes become professionals in their sports. That means that for every Brandon Ingram, Ben Simmons, and Buddy Hield making millions in the NBA, there are 97 people living their everyday lives just like you and me. And not every pro is making millions either.
What I'm trying to get you to understand is that we all see the success stories—the millionaires, the endorsements, the shoes, posters, YouTube videos and SportsCenter Top 10 highlights. Everybody always talks about the few who are in the limelight, because that is what we see on tv and on the internet. But they are the few...
The average income as of 2014 for those 13,800 professional athletes is $71,850. So for every LeBron James you see making $20 million in another Kia commercial, there are hundreds of minor league baseball players, endorsed track and field athletes, and others that are just scraping by like the average U.S. citizen (who makes $44,000/year on average).
What is even more disheartening is that the majority of these athletes find themselves in financial distress or bankrupt by the time they retire from sports.
Mo Money, Mo Problems
In a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, studies showed that 60% of former NBA players became broke within five years of retirement. And it gets worse. 78% of former NFL players become bankrupt within two years of hanging up their cleats.
The problem isn't in the system, it's the players themselves. They don't know how to manage money, because they were never taught the proper way. Many athletes grow up in impoverished homes, and didn't have much, if any, support from their parents. When they become rich, they over-indulge and don't care about their long term future. All they care about is the now and not the later.
If Football Players Get Paid, then So Does Everyone Else
People need to realize that if you want to pay the Johnny Manziels for their autographs or the Shabazz Napiers for their food, then you now have to pay for all that food the big guy throwing shot put is asking for too. And don't forget the entire team of soccer players, the swimming and diving team, the golf and lacrosse teams, etc.
The only sports that make money for schools are football and men's basketball. Every other sport loses money hand-over-fist. Only 12% of women's basketball programs are profitable. The rest of these sports are kept afloat by subsidies from the "granddaddy of them all"—football.
Haves and Have-Nots
If colleges were forced to pay all athletes, you can kiss overall competition goodbye. The day you see student-athletes get paid is the same day you will see thousands of athletic programs get cut. Tens of thousands of scholarships will get pulled from hockey teams, baseball programs, volleyball squads, etc. The mid-major schools without those big tv contracts will have it the worst and will have to start chipping away from the top. All those football stadiums in the non-BCS conferences will be sitting empty because they won't have the money available to keep them going.
If we paid athletes, the Kentuckys in basketball will get even better. Heck, even the Nebraska football program might just be good again. Parity in college athletics will be non-existent. Isn't that why we watch in the first place—because anybody can win, on any given day? Traditions will be broken, letter winners won't be able to come back and watch their old programs play, and most importantly the majority of those average athletes won't get the opportunity to play sports at smaller schools.
Sad, but true.
"The Majority of Us Will Go Pro in Something Other Than Sports"
Jumping back to that 3.1% number—how come we don't hear any flack from the other 96.9% of student-athletes who think they deserve more money? It's because they are fully compensated. And then some. Sure, they would like more money, but their face isn't on ESPN. Their jersey isn't getting sold at the bookstore. It's because they are gracious for their scholarship money and don't ask questions.
Shoot, the overwhelming majority of Division III, NAIA, and lower-level colleges don't even give out scholarships. They are paying out of their own pockets for tuition, room and board just like everyone else.
Recent U.S. college graduates in December 2013 had an average student loan debt of $29,000. Add on personal, auto, and credit card debts that were incurred in college and that number jumps up to $35,000. All those student-athletes that received scholarships didn't have to pay a single dime. If they did need money for food or spending money, there is financial aid, grants, and part-time jobs available at their disposal. I just wish they would have used their time wisely and attended that FINANCE 101 course freshman year.
We shouldn't be putting the blame on the universities and the NCAA, we should be pointing the finger right back at the athletes themselves. And oh yeah, maybe they could spend five minutes out of their day and write a "thank you" note to the colleges that gave them that free education too.
If it ain't broke don't fix it. The NCAA is not broken.