Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pay for Play?

This past basketball season there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t either see Jimmer Fredette t-shirts, hear a YouTube song about him or ESPN commentators talk about his crossover and 3 point shot. In this frenetic atmosphere that we proudly christened Jimmer-mania, many people saw the opportunity to make a buck. Corporate tycoons like ESPN, local entrepeneurs, and even the university and its affiliates saw great financial gains as a result of the national exposure surrounding The Jimmer. Out of all the money that was made because of Jimmer Fredette not one dime came back to him as a college-athlete.

As of today it is prohibited for college student-athletes to be paid. They receive money for their tuition, books and boarding, as well as an opportunity at a college degree. However, unlike most other college students, they are not allowed to have jobs during the school year. Subsequently, many college athletes get into financial trouble their first year of college while the schools are making millions from their services. I am in favor of paying college athletes due to the financial needs of the students, and because they are the reason the money is being made.

Michael Wilbon, an ESPN columnist, while explaining if the money would be divided up evenly among all athletes gave a compelling argument explaining why they deserve the money in the first place. ”Let me declare up front I wouldn't be the slightest bit interested in distributing the funds equitably or even paying every college athlete. I'm interested in seeing the people who produce the revenue share a teeny, tiny slice of it. That's right, football and men's basketball players get paid; lacrosse, field hockey, softball, baseball, soccer players get nothing. You know what that's called? Capitalism. Not everything is equal, not everything is fair. The most distinguished professor at the University of Alabama won't make $5.9 million in his entire tenure in Tuscaloosa; Nick Saban will make that this year. So I don't want to hear that it's ‘unfair’ to pay the quarterback of Alabama more than all the sociology students in the undergraduate college.”

There are several opposing arguments against paying college athletes. Some say that it takes away from the integrity of the game. My response is that the integrity of the college game as already tainted. It is common knowledge that Cam Newton’s father took over $180,000 from someone associated with Auburn University last year. The University of Oregon is under investigation for paying one of their running backs $25,000 for his services. The former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel stepped down from his position this summer because of several of his players receiving “improper benefits” from a tattoo parlor. The University of Miami’s football program could be under severe penalty from the NCAA for receiving “improper benefits” from ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. If we were paying college athletes a reasonable stipend, the athletes would be less likely to accept illegal payments that ruin the integrity of the game.

The main question brought up when we talk about paying the student-athletes is, “where is the money going to come from?” I ask where does the money come from now? For BYU, our football players’ scholarship money, (tuition, books, rent) comes from boosters. The University of Alabama pays their coach, Nick Saban, much more than most other schools. The way they are able to do this is because boosters and alumni came up with millions of dollars a year apart from what the university promised to pay him. Just as they raised money for the coach they can raise money for the players. And thus we can see, boosters represent a real means of obtaining the funding we could use to pay the student-athletes.

Another way to raise money to pay college-athletes is through the televised deals that colleges make with ESPN. This summer the University of Texas singed a 20 year $300 million deal with ESPN to televise their home football games. BYU also signed a deal with ESPN to televise their home games for 8 years. The amount BYU received from ESPN was not released to the public but it has been speculated that BYU received $40-$50 million. BYU played Oklahoma two years ago and received $4 million from ESPN just for that one game. The newly formed Pac-12 recently signed a TV deal with ESPN and Fox Sports worth $225 million over the next 12 years. Distributed evenly among the 12 teams each team will get $18.75 million a year. And if the TV deals with Texas, BYU and the Pac-12 haven’t convinced you that there is enough money to go around, consider the deal that the NCAA made with CBS/Turner Sports for rights to March Madness from 2011 to 2024 worth $10.8 billion. So while the NCAA is investigating former Alabama defensive end Marcel Darius’s $300 flight to Miami paid for by an NFL agent and suspending him for two games for accepting these “improper benefits” it is accepting billion dollar deals to broadcast the games. Clearly there are funds sufficient to increase student-athlete compensation.

Many of these funds go back to schools to help pay for their coaches’ salaries. South Carolina’s football coach Steve Spurrier suggested this summer that his football players could be paid $300 per game from his own personal salary. He makes several million dollars a year but here’s what he would be paying. $300 times 50 scholarship players times 12 games comes out to $180,000. All colleges could not do this but it is an option for those that could.

I am not in favor of giving all of the profits from the football program to the football players. A lot of good comes from spending the money on other parts of campus. But with colleges making millions of dollars from their student athletes it only seems just to have a more equal distribution of wealth among those that are creating the revenues. We live in a country where the free market system is highly valued, where we see it as oppressive if an organization such as the government or the NCAA feels that it’s best if they decide how the money should be best distributed.

BYU has a webpage that shows how people can help student athletes now. Take a look at it. ( My invitation to you, as a BYU student to the BYU student body, is to become aware of the situation here at BYU and how we could change the student-athlete compensation when most of the other colleges change to pay their athletes.


  1. I love it! Great job with the ending, that was a perfect addition. I took your advice for the beginning of my op-ed too so thank you for that.

  2. That was interesting, I think that most college athletes get enough back in scholarships and publicity that they don't need to be paid. But I could see them getting a little money which would help them out.

  3. I totally agree! These kids work so hard for nothing they at least need some compensation.

  4. I loved the quote from WIlbon. It is true. They have put their heart into playing a sport that gets the most attention. It is true! It is just like the real world! I don't think they should due getting paid millions. But just a little piece of the pie.

  5. Michael and I were talking about this today, and we decided that college athletes should be compensated, not a ton, but at least enough to cover basic living costs since they can't get jobs. Especially for those players who are walk-ons and don't receive the benefits of a full-ride scholarship.