A reader writes:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but your reader is dead wrong about college athletics being a moneymaker. Study upon study has been done on this, and story after story has been written about the phenomenon of universities subsidizing their entertainment (i.e. athletic young people running around after a ball) with funds from their core educational and pedagogical mission. Only the very best, biggest programs, all twenty-two of them, turn a profit. But hundreds of universities across the country are pouring money from their educational programs into their athletic programs.
Jay Paterno, assistant coach and son of head-coach-legend Joe Paterno, has an awesome editorial regarding this topic. As he points out, college athletes receiving full scholarships earn approximately $56.25 – $83.25 per hour in tuition, depending on in-state/out-of-state status. Most of the people I know would kill for that hourly rate.
Your reader said: “Besides, most of these students who do play professional sports never finish their degree.” In the NFL, at least, this is simply not true.
Right now, the graduation rate is about 50 per cent and a lot of the drop-outs would be the elite players who are maximizing their current appeal. (Cam Newton, for example, will get at least $35 million from the Carolina Panthers, possibly up to $50 million; I don’t think he needed Economics 101 to help him with that decision.) Amongst college athletes in general, the graduation rate is around 65 per cent, with some schools hitting over 90 per cent.
The reader also points to a piece on pro athletes enrolling in college courses as a hedge against early retirement. Another writes:
This is a subject I’ve thought about a great deal. The idea that I haven’t seen elsewhere involves the selling of merchandise with an athlete’s name: Set a portion of the profits aside in a trust to be turned over to the athlete when the athlete completes his/her degree. Keep it for a certain length of time, like 5 or 10 years after the athlete starts at the school. The money is returned to the school’s funds at the end of that time, or if the athlete transfers to another and completes his/her degree elsewhere. This gives the athlete a little extra motivation to finish schooling and enables the school to continue claiming that they want to educate their athletes.
We don’t have any of the issues we see with college football and basketball in college baseball. This is due to the existence of minor league baseball. If a high school baseball player is talented enough and wants to make baseball their vocation, he enters the draft and, if chosen, enters the minor leagues, where he will be paid for his talents. Meanwhile, those with lesser talent go off to college to either hone their skills and try and get into the minor leagues at another time or choose another vocation, study and work hard to attain a degree in that vocation, and supplement their college experience by playing college ball.
If the goal of these athletes is to go pro anyway, why not let them go pro after high school? Expand the recruitment of high school graduates. Already, we’ve seen quite a few players in the NBA (Kevin Garnett springs to mind) become successful after being drafted from the high school level. The league has implemented mandatory transitional programs so that players don’t go off the deep end when it comes to fame and fortune. Don’t see why that shouldn’t be their focus (and the focus of the NFL), moral imperatives be damned.
Of course, with such an expansion, the NFL and NBA should have a form of farm system that you see with the NHL and MLB, or a “youth” wing to their teams that you see in European soccer, to develop this talent. Clearly, the only reason some of these athletes go through college at length is to improve their skills for the talent scouts, earning a better spot in the draft. Why not let them be drafted from a fair baseline, and let them develop over a period of a couple years before reaching the major leagues? It might even teach them to be more, you know, professional.
A reader flags the above video:
As usual, PBS got there first. It’s a short segment on the topic with great insight from Michael Lewis, who has written a lot about this topic. Covered in the program is Jim Calhoun, the coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies basketball team and the highest paid civil servant in the state (here is a famous YouTube video of Calhoun getting heated in a press conference when asked about his salary). The NCAA CEO is paid a sick amount as well.