Friday, July 22, 2011

Curbing College Costs by Ending University Athletics, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan points to this Wilbon piece suggesting that colleges should pay collegiate athletes:

If the student as athlete can find a way, he/she should be able to endorse products, to have paid-speaking gigs, to sell memorabilia, as Allen Sack, the author and professor at the college of business at the University of New Haven has suggested in recent years. The best college athletes in the two revenue-producing sports have always been worth much more than tuition, room, board and books. The best football and basketball players in the Big Ten have produced to the degree that a television network has become the model for every conference in America, a network worth at least tens of millions of dollars to the member institutions. Yet, no player can benefit from that work. The players have become employees of the universities and conferences as much as students -- employees with no compensation, which not only violates common decency but perhaps even the law.
Sullivan adds a follow up from a reader:

Some will say that the free college education is reward enough.  Others will say that college sports is supposed to be amateur athletics, and still others will point out that all the money the schools receive from the "big sports" go to fund the less popular sports.
But the people saying these things are ignoring the reality of the situation.  The kind of athlete who would like to get paid illegally today does not value their education the way you or I would.  These people are invested in their hands, their legs, their bodies; the skills they have to offer the world are physical, not mental (in most cases).  An elite athlete's life after sports will be relatively the same whether they have a college degree or not.  Besides, most of these students who do play professional sports never finish their degree.

What's the point of a college? I ask this question seriously.  The answer I would give is this: the point of a college is to provide people (of any age) a place to obtain an education and/or skills that will enable them to have a job that an non-college-educated person could not do. That and that alone is the point of a college.

Now, I recognize that in order for a college to recruit and retain top-level educators as well as in order to lure high-potential graduate students, they must also allow the professors to do their own research, and subsidize the education of the graduate students in exchange for their work under the tutelage of these professors. Therefore, colleges have grant-writing facilities and laboratories and all the things professors need so they can have the fun while they aren't preoccupied with the doldrums involved in educating tomorrow's leaders.

Further, while I've argued before, half-jokingly, that University-Sponsored Athletics Should Be Abolished, I am not so naive as to believe there is no place for it. I recognize that Saturday afternoon football games are a great way to lure back Alumni aka donors and certainly many of those donors provide important revenue to the school, either by way of donation or less directly by sending their children to the school who then are charged tuition.

However, one thing a college is NOT is a venue for some enterprising young athlete to advertise his money-making skills to the commercial marketplace in order to secure a lucrative sports drink contract. Nor is a college athletic program simply an entertainment provider for the TV watchers of America. If 18-year-olds believe they have the skills necessary to excel at professional athletics, playing on a college team with no intention to graduate does neither them nor the college a service. In fact, having a "one-and-done" star on the school roster is a massive drain on resources:
- The recruiting staff has spent a small fortune trying to win the allegiance of this player.
- The education the athlete will laugh off will be subsidized through scholarships...which is paid for either by taxpayer subsidies or by offsetting it with higher tuition across the rest of the student body.
- Tutors are often hired by the University under the auspices of helping these students to pass.

 Finally, there's the casuality implied in a statement like "besides, most of these [student athletes] who do play professional sports never finish their degree." Thank you for succinctly summarizing the entire problem.

Here's something to chew on: of the 450 or so underclassmen that will quit college early to enter the NFL draft next year, only 70% of them will get drafted. Of the ones that do get drafted, less than 20% will still be in the NFL in 4 years. That means roughly 86% of these guys will be on the street. And of those unlucky guys, their college-football-playing counterparts who finished college but never even went to the NFL will end up making $600,000 more during their careers than the fellas who skipped their senior year in search of a fast buck.

But by all means, let's even further monetize college athletics by allowing "student athletes" to take endorsement deals.


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