Pay-to-Play is a Hot Topic in College Athletics

The demand for college athletes to be paid is growing in the wake of big-time TV deals and escalating coaches salaries./Photo/Bryan Corrvibias
The demand for college athletes to be paid is growing in the wake of big-time TV deals and escalating coaches salaries./Photo/Bryan Corrvibias

The discussion about paying college athletes is now serious business. It is serious enough that current NCAA President Mark Emmert wants to openly talk about the subject. Lawsuits have been filed to litigate whether or not the NCAA can control the monies being used off an athlete’s likeness.

 Financially-strapped athletes being paid under the table while major college coaches benefit from multimillion dollar salaries, has spurned the current discussion.

And in the wake of the NCAA signing off on a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports and ESPN locking up college football’s Bowl Championship Series (BCS) television rights at $125 million a year, the topic of play-for-pay in college sports, has hit a new crescendo.

With black athletes making up the majority of players in both basketball and football-the two highest revenue-generated collegiate sports, and the bulk of coaches and administers at major college being white-race, fairness and full-blown capitalism have entered into the arena.

Last week, a number of race and intercollegiate experts gathered together at Wake Forest University to debate the matter.        

In the race to have the best team, win the most games and make the most money, college sports programs have exploited student-athletes for university gains, according to some of the nation’s leading experts on race and intercollegiate sports.

In their research into race and economics in college sports, Robert and Amy McCormick, law professors at Michigan State University, have found that student-athletes, particularly African Americans, don’t reap the benefits of their labor.

Those athletes generate huge revenues for their schools. But, despite getting the opportunity to attend college at little or no cost, they often walk away without a degree or with a substandard education, the McCormicks say.

All the while, the predominately white administrators of colleges and intercollegiate sports programs draw rich salaries and their schools build ever-better facilities. Gene Chizik, head football coach of national champion Auburn, is an excellent example of this.

According to an article published in USA Today, Chizik has a $2.25 million-a-year contract set in stone. He gets another $1.3 million in incentive bonuses. Other examples of the disparity in the compensation conversation between coaches, administrators and athletes, considered to be unofficial de facto employees of their schools, are Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino and Alabama football leader Nick Saban.  

Pitino draws an annual income of $7.5 million. Saban earns a yearly paycheck from Alabama of over $5 million.

“A largely African American work force – the players – are generating a great deal of wealth by creating the product of college sports, but they are not allowed to share that wealth,” Robert McCormick said.

The average future NFL draftee brings in $400,000 a year and a future NBA draftee brings in $1.2 million a year for their schools, according to Ahmed Taha, professor of law at Wake Forest University School of Law.

If that athlete actually graduates with a degree, it yields them, on average, just $72,868 in annual earnings. And only 56 percent of the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament bracket schools graduate at least 50 percent of their African-American players, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

“African American athletes should not be relegated to providing services for free to benefit and entertain white Americans,” Amy McCormick said. “Legally, as employees, and morally, as human beings, they must be paid.”

Coaches and college sports administrators also are failing athletes when it comes to dealing openly with recruits who have criminal records, said Jeffrey Benedict, author of the recent Sports Illustrated special report “Criminal Records in College Sports.”

His investigation found that, of the Sports Illustrated Top 25 preseason 2010 football teams, 7 percent of players (or 204) had been charged with or cited for a crime. Those players were implicated in 277 incidents.

But only two of 25 schools conducted any kind of criminal background check on incoming football scholarship recipients – and only one school, Texas Christian University, had a roster free of criminal records.

It’s not a matter of automatically disqualifying any recruit who has a felony record, Benedict said. “I don’t think that would be a good policy,” he added.

If a coach decides to recruit a player with a record, however, the school should ensure there’s a safety net for that athlete – so he stays out of trouble and gets an education that prepares him for life after football.

“That’s a guy who needs something more than shoulder pads and a helmet,” Benedict said. “He needs people who are looking out for his social well-being and his academics.”

Benedict, Taha, Robert and Amy McCormick and about 40 other experts on race and college sports have gathered at Wake Forest University for “Losing to Win: Discussions of Race and Intercollegiate Sports.”

The summit – the most comprehensive national meeting of such experts – was coordinated by Wake Forest’s Tim Davis, a professor of law and sports law expert; and Earl Smith, professor of sociology and author of “Race, Sports and the American Dream.”

SOURCES: Wake Forest University/PRNewswire/USAToday

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1389 Articles
Dennis is a news and sports photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on issues such as civil rights, education, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze, Daily Press, Los Angeles Wave, Los Angeles Sentinel, and other media outlets. Dennis is currently the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. Dennis is an alum and graduate of Howard University.