Drew Eastland ‘21 (he/him), Sports Editor
Often accused of highlighting the discrepancies between divergent groups of people, 2020 refuses to make an exception for college sports. On September 26th, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) kicked off its season-opening football games with partial fan capacity and a full conference schedule with travel across the region. Davidson’s football conference, the Pioneer League, has postponed the season until further notice.
According to 247 sports, the Big Ten conference received a collective $2.64 billion from TV deals with both ESPN and FOX in 2010. Twelve teams in the conference received $54 million in revenue. This also does not account for ticket sales, merchandise, or other sources of revenue. The athletes who drive these revenues are completely excluded from the benefits.
Assuming one of those Big Ten schools offers the maximum-allowed 85 full scholarships and that each player would pay $65,000 in tuition without a scholarship (if any player was coming from in-state, it’s unlikely tuition would cost $65,00 dollars but in fairness to the schools, we make this assumption), the Big Ten would still have an excess revenue stream of approximately $58 million dollars based on 2019 figures. Further, even if a scholarship was equivalent to the value a player added, it’s still conditional payment.
As Power Five college football takes the field this season, all Davidson athletes sit on the sidelines. The optics show an organization, the NCAA, that prioritizes profits over health and safety for some sports, while pretending to have concern for safety regarding athletic events that result in fewer profits. Even those Davidson athletes, who are playing sports where social distancing and non-contact competition are possible, are still sidelined since they don’t generate the big profits required to compete.
In the world of professional sports, golf was one of the first events to return to competitive rounds. The PGA restarted after COVID-19 shutdowns on June 8th, over a month before the NBA. In the warped world of the NCAA, profit-heavy contact sports are embraced with open arms. It appears that the NCAA’s perspective on sports that do not bring in money, regardless of their COVID spreading risk, is ‘sorry, wait until next season.’
It is time to re-examine the compensation and benefits that the real producers of NCAA’s revenue—the athletes—deserve. Just like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, Power Five football and Division One basketball are big businesses; if any other business the size of the NCAA refused to pay its labor force, outrage would be rampant. Additionally, the NCAA’s inconsistent response to COVID-19 further highlights the pressing need for real change in college sports.
Proponents of paying college athletes often postulate blanket statements such as “college athletes should be paid,” but they then offer no feasible way of implementing compensation. Additionally, the tradition of college football is rooted in the culture of many schools, and taking on these institutions presents another hurdle to paying the players.
The abundant traditions of college football lead to opposition from fans and universities alike whenever change is proposed; however, there are great ways to maintain university affiliation and the tradition of college athletics while transitioning to a fairer compensation system.
A first step to both maintain the allure of college athletics and compensate athletes might involve giving them a choice. Allow athletes the option of full-time, part-time, or non-student status, and divide a percentage of TV sales, jersey revenues, and ticket receipts among student-athletes.
Players would be paid but could have the option to use compensation toward academic expenses. College athletes maintain a rigorous schedule. Giving them the option to attend some school now and the rest later, potentially after an athletic career, allows the university to still benefit but protects the athletes from abuse. The culture around college football would stay the same, but players would be able to have more choices and derive more benefits from their labor efforts.