The NCAA recently caved to California and the federal government by unanimously supporting compensation for student athletes. The NCAA board of governors approved a two-year process to determine a framework to compensate student athletes for their name, image, and likeliness.
The move by the NCAA is a vocal step in the right direction, but terminology like the “collegiate model” and “enhancing opportunities for student athletes” show that the NCAA’s scope may not result in freedom for the almost half million college athletes nationwide.
Traditional terms like “student athlete” have long been embraced by the NCAA to maintain the illusion of amateur sports, making money for everyone except the athletes themselves. The term student athlete was invented to dodge 1950s federal employment laws.
Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, adopted the term to avoid paying workers compensation claims. It is also argued that student athletes are “paid” with a scholarship. While more convincing, a scholarship is a paltry sum compared to the earning potential for compensation and sponsorships for a star athlete.
As we have said before, California’s Fair Pay to Play Act is one of the few positive public policies coming out of the Golden State this year. The recently signed law is free market in its most basic model, letting individuals freely earn money from their image and likeness. The final NCAA framework should close a long exploited loophole by the NCAA against student athletes.
While the NCAA is trudging along to find a way to pay student athletes, look no farther the recent news of college football coaching changes for a lack of credibility around compensation and college sports.
Florida State University, one of the traditional top-tier programs in college football, recently fired the head football coach. It cost the school roughly $18 million. The money was reportedly raised outside of the university and sports programs.
College coaches receive enormous contracts compared to other professions, but that is what the market has set as the price for a college coach. Scarcity and supply and demand mean that the top college sports conferences pay millions to the coaching staff in order to attract the best recruits, sell tickets, and win.
For example, the average salary of a coach in the Southeastern Conference, or SEC, is over $4.6 million. A head coach in the Pac-12 conference, home of my alma matter, brings home an average of $2.8 million. Is that the collegiate model?
Coaching salaries highlight the incredible stain on the NCAA’s credibility and argument for maintaining the college model and enhancing opportunities for student athletes. At every level, college athletics are a financial arms race.
And, there’s no guarantee that a star student athlete will make it to a professional contract. For example, a star college football player can be offered a scholarship and hope to be named a starter at his position, hope to stay healthy, hope to be scouted by a professional team or get drafted, and hope to sign a long-term contract.
In short, it’s a long journey for an athlete to have any shot at a big payday.
Meanwhile, a coach like Willie Taggart from Florida State University will most likely coach again and probably make millions. And don’t forget that Taggart walked away with $18 million. Is that a collegiate model?
The NCAA has adjusted other criticisms between college athletes and coaches. In 2019, the NCAA continued to modernize rules around player transfers, making the process quicker and more transparent if student athletes transfer to another school.
In the past, college players had to sit out a year, losing eligibility and playing time, unless they met a waiver or another special exemption. Student athletes felt the NCAA rules were unfair as coaches could pursue new coaching positions, and higher paid contracts, freely.
The NCAA brags that less than 2 percent of the estimated 490,000 college athletes become professional athletes. Is it that crazy to offer the other 98 percent a little extra money playing a sport they love? Instead of embracing whatever the collegiate model means, the NCAA should bring student athlete compensation in line with other contracts and sponsorships. That would really enhance opportunities for student athletes.
Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager at the Pacific Research Institute.