Saturday, November 10, 2018

Paying College Players

Perhaps we should, perhaps we shouldn't, I have heard good arguments on both sides. We have backed ourselves into a ridiculous corner, where colleges provide the minor leagues for professional sports, and define themselves by athletic events that only connect to their (theoretical) overall mission only in distant ways.  College theater is not the minor leagues for Broadway of Hollywood. College singers, musicians, artists, and designers are not really the feeder system for our popular entertainments. Orchestras, maybe.

We got into this decades ago, with colleges considering that lots of their prestige, particularly among alumni who might give them something, rode on the football team's season, especially against "hated" rivals. A century ago schools were paying players under the table to pretend to be students. How we get out from this stupid system into something that makes sense for athletes, schools, and professional leagues I don't know.  Baseball seems to be closest.

There are two common arguments that are false, though.  The idea that elite college players especially deserve to be paid because they generate so much money for the NCAA and their individual schools doesn't hold up. If Zion Williamson wasn't at Duke, someone else would be at Duke, and people would still watch them on TV.  Duke would still sell shirts nationwide. As the baseball players are replaceable, so are college basketball players.  We will pin our hopes to another, we will tell just as many stories about next year's crop. We might pay the players for the work they are doing, but they actually aren't providing value-added for the NCAA in general.  A single athlete might briefly provide value-added for a single school that doesn't usually have an elevated profile.  That is not the norm.

The other false argument is that the value of a free college education is enough, especially now when it might be worth $70K/year. It isn't really worth that to the athletes. The education itself is no longer worth that amount, it is valuable 75% for its ticket-punching or prestige at some schools, and that only if you graduate. If you aren't really capable of doing college work, as many elite athletes aren't, that $70K is just an advertising number.  It has no meaning.  If you are a good student, getting a free ride instead of a lot of debt to get a prestige degree, that's a good deal.  If you are studying valuable topics and encountering good professors, so much the better. William and Mary has a second-year law student who is playing basketball on his fourth year of eligibility. That guy played his cards right. Most DI players for ranked teams are just playing in the minor leagues for the NFL or NBA, temporarily wearing the laundry of some school. They aren't being "paid" anything except very nice room and board, plus heightened access to hot babes.


james said...

I've seen it argued that investment in the sports teams pays off in terms of alumni donations.
I've seen it claimed that this isn't true for one or more Big Ten schools--that the football team is a net loss.
I've never seen numbers laid out clearly for either proposition.

I suppose name recognition is worth something in recruiting students, but at least in the STEM side of the world the football team's ranking isn't one of the most important factors in accepting a job offer--the academic and research opportunities are. And the pay package. Perhaps a newly minted Grievance Studies prof considers the presence of the football program to be job security--always something to protest.

Boxty said...

In exchange for salaries for college players, I'd require all pro ballers to be college grads. This will make it possible for more Jewish and Asian kids to make it to the pro leagues because diversity.

Also, the softball and lacrosse players will have to be paid an equal salary because equality.