NCAA, Player Lawsuits and Compensation: Part I

I have what appears to be a unique view on the subject of paying players.  It must be as no one else on the media seems to share it.  As I hear about the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, and hear about what is involved in the lawsuit, the TV rights and the likeness argument, I have to say that this kind of case may do more harm that good to the students and the sports.  So let me put my two cents in a bullet list so I can make sure everyone understands my philosophy.

1. I think athletes deserve more money.
2. I don’t think it should be enough to hurt the schools.
3. I think coaches earn their salaries and the benefit to all student athletes at an institution is reflected in this.

Here are a few items I would like to see happen:

1. All NCAA players should be able to receive what is basically a part-time minimum wage job’s worth of additional stipend a month on top of what is currently there.
If you set the hourly wage of $8 is applied to a 25 hour work week, that would give players of all sports an extra $200 per week, or an extra $10k a year (roughly).  This would cost a University with 300 full scholarship athletes across all sports an extra $3.12 Million a year.

2. I think all student athletes should get health care coverage for three years following their graduation from the institution.
If they leave early for professional sport, a job, transfer, drop out or are expelled prior to getting their under graduate degree, then they are no longer eligible.  They should also get an opportunity to COBRA those benefits if they want to after they leave.  This should be subsidized by jersey sales and TV rights money.

3. Student athletes should be able to transfer as other students do without prejudice
I love the idea, as a fan, that players are punished if they ditch your team for greener pastures.  I also love that the Beaver coaches could really make it hard for a player to transfer to a festering sore on humanity like the University of Oregon (home of the Fighting Daddy Warbucks) if they wanted to.  But like most fans, I am a total jerk.

The reality is, student athletes should be treated as other students in this means.  There are a million of reasons a student wants to change schools, whether it be to take care of a sick family member all the way to just not liking your coach or the rain. The transfer rule punishes players in a way that is not reflected in academia or business.  Outside of military service or maybe a non-compete contract, anyone can leave at any time and not face the same issues.

Now I bring up non-compete clauses because that is the one area that may seem kind of gray, but there are a lot of restrictions to what is even enforceable in a non-compete.  The fact that a coach like Keith Heyward can go to a direct competitor without any recourse shows that there is a precedent set in employees that they are at will to choose work, just as they are employed at the will of their employer.  Also, as non-compete clauses are different from state to state (try enforcing yours in California.  It is not easy) so there is no legally consistent means of enforcing them.

The reality is that college athletes are unfairly restricted in this. You don’t want players to leave?  Do  a better job vetting them before you bring them in and don’t be a jerk.  Russel Wilson would have stayed at NC State (which I think would have eventually been a mistake) if they would have let him play baseball. Instead he transfers to Wisconsin (because he had his degree already) and the rest is history.  I think players should be allowed to do that.  Right now Oregon State has a log jam at QB, and it is going to get worse. I think if some of those guys decided they had a better chance elsewhere, i would be sad to see them go but would understand and would want them to be able to get going right away and not have to sit out a year.

Especially since Redshirt years are their coaches decisions, not theirs (in most cases).   It is terrible that  a kid who redshirted their freshman year would have to sit out one more year if they decided they wanted to play closer to home or whatever.  Especially since they have no control over who their coach is or how long they stay.

Other than that, I am not sure there should be much changes to the deal.
If the payments in step one are based on the Federal Minimum Wage, they should go up for cost of living increases as needed. College scholarships already cover room and board, food, books, tuition and a stipend for living expenses. They have access to free health care, free training, free weight programs and dietitians, programs that can offer free trips for family emergencies and free study aids/tutoring resources.

The other side of it is this:  Schools don’t make a ton of money.  You can say that coaches are paid too much, but ask the schools that have bad ones, that cannot win, cannot get their base to donate and cannot do what it takes to allow the entire department to grow. For Beaver fans, you won’t have to go too far to find them. There are very few money making sports and the ones that do have to cover the rest.  Especially in light of Title IX and the restrictions that puts on a department.  While a business might cut a program that doesn’t make money, unfortunately, college athletic departments have to offer equal opportunities to female athletes that they do male.  So there is always an additional price tag on the programs that do.

So I want players to get the most they can while protecting the institutions that provide them the opportunities they have.  Unfortunately, the numbers that the media likes to throw around include so many different institutions that nailing down who writes the checks is difficult.  The NCAA has a target on its back because it is incompetent and had failed student athletes in a lot of ways, but even they don’t have the means.  If the NCAA had to foot the bill for the item I outlined in step one, for all student athletes, they would have to pay roughly $4 Billion a year for 400K athletes.  To put that in perspective, the NCAA pays out 96% of its earnings to student athletes, and this increase would take up $3.4 billion dollars more annually than the NCAA is bringing in with their new $10 billion TV deal for the NCAA basketball tournament (roughly $750 million a year for all conferences).  There is money in the college sports world to get it done, but not necessarily in one entity.

So what do you give the players, how much can you pull from any single entity and not have it shrivel up at the burden?  The NCAA is more like Wall Street, and the colleges are the individual companies traded on it.  Each of those companies is responsible for their own employees.  If you look at their books and what they have to do to stay competitive (coaches salaries, conference affiliations) deal with federal restrictions (Title IX) you would not find the money in most of them to handle another huge tax on their programs.

I want more for the players, but it is misleading to say that there is much more available from all the entities involved that can pay out to the volume and scale that they would have to. In terms of media rights, who would pay for those?  Would that come out of the TV contracts awarded by network deals?  Would conferences have to pay back pay? How far back?

So what do you do?  Do you remove Football from schools and make it a minor league sport?  Then who pays for that, the NFL?

Because guess what, if the price tag goes up significantly, no one else will.

I would love to hear your comments on this topic.  I might have glaring errors in my reporting or might be totally off base on something, so please let me know by leaving a comment below!

One thought on “NCAA, Player Lawsuits and Compensation: Part I

  1. Steve

    I figure 80-90 percent of players coming through Oregon State University for football won’t make it to the NFL and get on a practice squad (which pays roughly 102,000 bucks if they last the whole season), but if I am correct, they will get tuition, room and board, and books (which OSU estimates to add up to about 22K a year for resident students and 39K a year for non-resident students).

    I’d bet if we asked any non-scholarship student if they’d be willing to put the time in to receive 22K-39K to put towards their college education each year, and the opportunity for prestige and name recognition amongst your peers, as well as a few free airplane trips and hotel nights that most students won’t get, the answer would probably be yes.

    They’re getting paid to play football already. I do have no qualms with the proposal to give athletes an additional couple thousand bucks annually to meet other basic expenses. OSU does say a typical student will need about an extra 2600 bucks annually for that.

    Now, as far as the universities profiting from their images (video game sales, etc), as well as possibilities of long term injuries and such affecting the player’s futures, those are concerns that need to be addressed. If players unions were to pop up and demand negotiation of payment or salaries for the salaries, the first things the university should address should be that the players cover their tuition, room and board and books out of those salaries. While they’re at it, those kids should probably negotiate some protection from at-will employment (law of the land in Oregon unless contracted otherwise) into their contracts that so many workers do not have.

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