The Big Ten recently announced the addition of U. Maryland and Rutgers U., bringing the conference to 14 members. In addition to bringing inroads into the East Coast TV markets and the all important revenue that will result, the two research institutions also joined the Committee on Institutional Cooperation with considerably less fanfare. The CIC consists of the Big Ten institutions, plus the University of Chicago, which was a founding member of the Big Ten until it withdrew from the conference in 1946 in order to prioritize academics over athletics. The decision would be unthinkable today.
Prior to the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten earned nearly half a billion dollars from football revenue alone and profits somewhere around half of that. Yes, some of this goes to support other sports and supports Title IX-mandated women’s sports. The new TV deals stemming from the addition of Maryland and Rutgers are predicted to add some additional $200 million annually. Coaches make big bucks — Iowa’s football coach Kirk Ferentz is the highest-paid employee of the state of Iowa, commanding some $3.8 million annually. Minnesota’s own Jerry Kill makes at least $1.2 million a year. Announcers and TV networks profit. Vendors profit. Contractors are paid for the new facilities. All in all, college athletics is a high-dollar affair.
But where do the student-athletes fall in this scheme? Generously, a full-ride scholarship is in the ballpark (pun intended) of $50,000, covering tuition, room and board, books and health care. This figure omits the extra “gifts” players receive upon earning bowl berths. Of course, athletes are also prohibited from receiving fringe benefits from boosters, which at big-name schools can include big-ticket items like cars or money from selling jerseys. Violations have led to high-profile sanctions upon the biggest programs. Yes, such practices may not be completely ethical, but given the short end of the stick athletes get in the NCAA, it is hard to blame them for taking outside boosters up on their offers. Many students come from humble backgrounds and cannot even afford to fly family members to bowl or tournament games.
Recently, the NCAA decided to allow colleges to provide student-athletes with a pittance of an extra $2,000 stipend but quickly suspended the measure after backlash from institutions unwilling to commit the extra $1 million for athletes to pay for their families to travel to see them play. Student-athletes are also prohibited from earning more than that $2,000 working a part-time job. While, yes, receiving pay without working would be unethical, such a prohibition seems to only incentivize players to take advantage of those other offers given by boosters outside the NCAA’s ability to effectively monitor and control. Simply paying athletes a reasonable compensation for the services they provide in generating millions of dollars in profits for their university, which also fail to include the alumni donations brought in by exposure of the athletics programs that benefit the general student population, seems reasonable.
As the super-conferences align and the ever-increasing TV revenue deals continue to provide college athletics with expanded revenues, the time has come to abandon the antiquated and unfair idealism of clinging to amateurism. These institutions owe a lot to their athletes and should compensate them as such.