A few immature and naïve athletes from Northwestern University recently sent shockwaves across the universe of college athletics. A certain labor board decided that these amateurs had a right to unionize, and such a decision could be used to proclaim that an era of paid college athletes is much more of a realistic reality than ever before seen in our lifetimes.
I am not one who loudly boasts support of the NCAA; in all honesty I cannot stand most of their public actions and decisions. The NCAA picks and chooses when to enforce its rules, it waivers year to year on the severity of punishments, the NCAA values the dollar just as much and if not more than the MLB, NFL, and NBA, the NCAA seems to stand by stagnantly and absent mindedly regarding review of football and basketball referees that fail miserably in their profession, and worst of all the NCAA preaches more than an inflexible southern Baptist regarding the value and importance of the student athlete, while monetarily reaping the benefits of absurd rules such as the "one and done" regulation that makes a mockery of higher education.
I already feel better with that rant off my chest, and now to the purpose of this article. The notion that college athletes should be paid is absurd, unfounded, and is spoken with a complete misunderstanding of how the supposed four year college experience is assumed to work. Also, everyone needs to understand that a significant portion of the dollars produced by major universities for the NCAA or by their major postseason events flows down to less affluent schools, and the lower division universities that do not award athletic scholarships.
For those of you with selective hearing, pay close attention because I am going to indulge you with actual statistics and numerical explanations.
Let us take our Northwestern athletes as a quick example. According to U.S News, Northwestern is ranked as the 12th best university in the United States. Tuition runs a staggering $46,000 per year. Their website estimates the cost of an average year for a student living on campus to be just over $63,000. I believe that number to be a little low given Chicago cost of living, but for sake of this article I'll go along with the number. 63,000 multiplied by four is $252,000. Receiving a degree from a top 20 university is invaluable and I do not know how to relegate that value to money.
Now that we understand the value of a four year Northwestern University degree, let us explore what a Northwestern scholarship athlete receives during his collegiate experience, along with most other division one athletes at major universities. The full cost of tuition and books is paid for by the school. Room and board is paid for by the school along with food expenses. The athlete receives constant and consistent tutoring not available to a standard student. The athlete receives constant and consistent extensions and excuses from classes, class assignments and exams. The athlete is provided with an unending amount of top of the line apparel, clothes, footwear, travel accessories, and workout apparel. The athlete is provided with premium healthcare, state of the art surgeries and operations, and unrivaled rehabilitation. The athlete through their participation in his or her sport travels throughout the United States with zero personal expense. Last, but certainly not least, most if not all athletes will graduate with absolutely zero student loans. Anyone care to place a dollar value on all of that?
According to several outlets, a four year college degree experience will cost an individual between $90,000 and $200,000 depending on whether one attends a public or private school, and their residency status. The lifestyle and experiences stated previously are not available to any other college student, only the athletes receive such a four year experience. I have no quarrel with these rewards, these kids have worked tirelessly throughout their childhoods to receive a scholarship and have earned every penny spent on their education.
My quarrel is with the people that rant and rave that these kids are deprived from what is rightfully theirs. Maybe I am out of touch, but I am not aware of many, or any 18-22 year olds that enjoy the almost expense free lifestyle that college athletes live at major universities. Every case is different and every school is different, and every experience is different, but these kids are saved/given anywhere between $100,000 to over $1 million dollars throughout their careers. These student athletes live a four year experience unlike anyone else in the world, and forgotten more often than not, they are given the opportunity to receive a college degree. By the way, only 30% of the U.S. population has achieved a college degree.
Now that the numbers are out of the way, it is time to address other issues I have with these talking heads. How many athletes throughout the country are actually profited off of by their school of choice? How do you value an athlete? Shouldn't some be paid more than others based on performance and notoriety? How could small budget schools compete with power conferences in paying their athletes? What is to be done with the non-revenue athletes? Can anyone give good answers to any of these questions? No. Setting up a pay-to-play system across the NCAA is impossible and incomprehensible. It is time to address the fixable issues, not get worked up over flipping the entire college process on its head.
The fact is college is an amazing place, an unforgettable experience, and it may be naïve of me, but people are supposed to attend college to set themselves apart from 70% of the United States population and receive a college degree. These athletes may not be paid directly, but the value of what they are given and can earn over their amateur experience in unmatched by anything else an 18-22 year could ever dream to achieve. College is a place for people to grow, mature, discover their path, and for those fortunate enough to earn an athletic scholarship to a major university it is an unforgettable and unimaginable experience. College is for amateurs, period.