Porto: Play For Pay

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(Host) Commentator Brian Porto is Deputy Director of the Sports Law
Institute at Vermont Law School. Having heard several recent arguments
in favor of paying college athletes, he suggests that we might want to
consider some reasons for not paying them.

(Porto) Lately,
some prominent voices have called for college football and men’s
basketball players whose play earns substantial revenue for their
schools, to be paid. For example, author Taylor Branch has written that
"[t]he tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college
athletes are getting paid [covertly], but that more of them are not"
[being paid openly].

To be sure, knowing that the National
Collegiate Athletic Association has a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract
with CBS and Turner Sports for the rights to televise its annual men’s
basketball tournament, tempts one to agree that the players should share
in the bounty in return for making it possible.

But before
jumping aboard the "play for pay" bandwagon, consider the results of a
study published by the Delta Cost Project of the American Institutes for
Research in January 2013. It examined athletic and academic spending,
between 2005 and 2010, at public universities that belong to Division I,
which includes the NCAA’s most athletically prestigious members. The
study found that in 2010, the universities in the sample spent almost
$92,000 per athlete, whereas the median academic expenditure per
fulltime student at the same institutions was only $14,000. The study
also found that athletic expenditures increased at least twice as fast
as academic spending, at these institutions, on a per capita basis,
between 2005 and 2010.

Therefore, although college athletes
receive no salaries, they are subsidized generously, benefiting from
excellent coaching, facilities, and medical attention in addition to
their athletic scholarships. And the NCAA maintains a Special Assistance
Fund that enables needy athletes to purchase clothing, course
materials, medical and dental services not covered by insurance, and
goods and services associated with family emergencies.

the study by the American Institutes for Research made clear that most
Division I institutions (including the University of Vermont and the
University of New Hampshire) do not earn a profit from sports, hence
would likely be unable to pay salaries to their athletes. Indeed,
between 2005 and 2010, most Division I universities helped to balance
the budgets of their athletic departments by transferring to them
institutional fees, including student activity fees, ranging from $3
million to $14 million annually.

Thus, whenever the debate about
paying college athletes rages, it’s necessary to remember that they are
already subsidized, including by their nonathlete classmates, and that
few institutions are financially able to pay salaries to their athletes.
Whatever conclusion one reach es on this matter, it’s important to
consider both sides of the debate.

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