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Exploitation of College Athletes!

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Millions of rabid college basketball fans have been glued to their TVs over the past month as March Madness reached its crescendo this Monday night.  My North Carolina Tar Heels came close in an effort to win its second national title in the past five years.  And the big bucks have been rolling in.  There are lots of winners, with coaches getting big salaries, and colleges spiting up their percentage of huge TV and admission revenues.  But there is one group that is being both exploited and shortchanged. It’s the players, themselves.

There’s certainly not a shortage of income.  This year in the NCAA tourney, television income is estimated to be some $750 million, with an additional $50 million from ticket sales and sponsorships. The cost of a thirty second spot for Monday night’s championship game exceeds $1 million.  And college football is awash with the same increasing yearly income. More bowl games, and the ever increasing television revenue allows most college football programs to cover the cost of a growing array of minor sports.

One sign of the growing sports revenues is the dramatic increase in coaches’ salaries.  The University of Kentucky hired basketball Coach John Calipari from the University of Memphis with a salary package of $35 million over the next 10 years.  Head coaches whose teams made the NCAA tournament have an average salary of $1 million.  And that doesn’t include all the perks like free cars, country club memberships, housing subsidies, access to private jets, and generous severance packages.

In college football, the numbers are even higher.  LSU football fans are still incensed over former Coach Nick Sabin taking a salary package estimated at close to $ 4 million at arch rival Alabama.  South Carolina Football Coach Steve Spurrier was enticed to take the job with a free country club membership at Augusta, home of this week’s Masters Golf tournament, which includes the use of a private jet to get him there for a quick 18 holes.  LSU is paying assistant football coaches as much as $700,000 a year or more. The University of Tennessee announced it would pay two assistant football coaches $650,000 or more, each, for the coming year.

The average compensation for these NCAA tourney coaches is almost triple that of the typical university president, which shows us the perverted priorities of these institutions of higher learning.  Little wonder that American industry has not been standing up too well in world competition.

Fans pay through the nose to attend major college athletic events.  As an LSU football season ticket holder, I personally pay $840 just for the right to buy my season tickets.  The seat ticket itself is $54 per game.  So there are big bucks coming into major college programs all over the country. Top-level college sports are big business.  LSU, for example, receives some $100 million in revenue each year from ticket sales, television rights, concessions, parking and logo sales, which is about five times what the school receives from tuition.

All this income comes from one source”¦the athletes. Yet only college expenses — room, food, tuition, books, and maybe a summer job — the basics are paid to these young men and women.  No pocket money to go to the movies, no gas money, no extras whatsoever. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented, disciplined, hardworking athletes, without sharing the revenue with those responsible for generating it.  Such a system is ill-defined at best and hypocritical at worst.  The universities, administrators, and coaches are reaping great value — even luxury — provided by their recruits, and the players, themselves, are given only a Spartan subsistence.

It was a little better than 40 years ago when I was lucky enough to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship. I was given a housing and food allowance that exceeded my costs, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship costs. What I received then was equivalent to some $250 in pocket money if the same were allowed today.  But it’s not.  The NCAA tightened up the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like me received some years back.

Supporters of the present system will argue that there is the opportunity for these athletes to move on to the pros and make big financial returns.  But we all know that very few make it to that level.  They may not even end up with the basic skills necessary to succeed in other workplaces, since only a minority of student-athletes in major sports even graduate.  LSU football and basketball players generally graduate at a rate of less than 40%.

There is a system in place now that’s allows our young college athletes to be exploited, and the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors.  What a deal — your body in exchange for a pittance of basic expenses.  A little monthly expense money is not about to corrupt the system. Providing $300 a month to all athletes on full athletic scholarship seems reasonable.  March Madness, as is always the case, turned out to be a financial bonanza — but not for the kids that many of us paid to watch.  They deserve a better shake and a small piece of this huge financial pie.


The coaches own the athletes’ feet, the colleges own the athletes’ bodies, and the supervisors retain the large rewards. That reflects a neoplantation mentality on the campuses that is not appropriate at this time of high dollars.”

Walter Byers, former executive director of the NCAA.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show live each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  Many radio stations throughout the country carry the program at various times throughout the week.

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