A reader makes a keen point:
Something that's missing from those studies regarding which colleges make money on sports is the fact that universities make more money from sports as a way to stay connected with major donors. Every university development office uses sporting events as a way to maintain ties with donors – many who are giving hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Coaching decisions are often made because some major donor doesn't like the coach. It may be difficult to quantify such things, but university administrators certainly understand that their jobs are dependent on keeping these donors happy, which usually means championships for their major sports teams.
Your reader's assertion that only twenty-two athletic programs made a profit last year in collegiate athletics obscures an uncomfortable truth.
The problem rests not with a lack of football revenue, but rather the bloated budgets of non-revenue earning sports. With no system in place to return the money earned by student athletes, it is simply spent on other sports unable to turn a profit. To borrow a term from Jason Whitlock, schools have created a "welfare state" that supports wrestling, baseball, lacrosse, fencing, soccer, and women's basketball among many others.
Title IX mandates an equal number of scholarships be made available to women's programs, but that alone cannot explain the system that is currently in place. The current system says that a women's basketball coach earning as much as $1 million is perfectly acceptable, but football players selling their own property should be punished. This is despite the fact that only two women's basketball programs in the country were able to turn a profit, whereas the Ohio State football program in question generated $35 million last year. There are 78 Division I-A football programs that turned a profit last year. This is not a revenue problem; it is a spending problem.
Another returns to a point raised in the original post:
I believe your commentators thus far have missed the mark, slightly. It isn't about paying student-athletes with money from athletic department coffers. Rather, look into what ESPN Analyst/Duke Basketball Player/Attorney Jay Bilas has been suggesting: the Olympic model.
Michael Phelps is not paid to swim. He is an amateur in that regard. However, he is permitted, per Olympic rules, to give paid speaking engagements, endorse products, etc. He is allowed to capitalize on the market for his own fame and success.
Terrelle Pryor, former QB for Ohio State, is not. Any benefit he receives as a result of being a student-athlete is a violation of NCAA rules. That's why it was a big deal when he sold his memorabilia – his own personal property, mind you – in exchange for tattoos and other items.
There is a vast market for unscrupulous deals like this, and the NCAA's unrealistic definition of student-athlete creates a perverse system where student-athletes may not profit on the open market for their talents and accomplishments. On the other hand, merely removing "-athletes" from the title permits a student to profit on the open market for his talents and accomplishments at will.
Mark Zuckerberg could have stayed at Harvard and profited off his Facebook work while continuing to major in computer science. Terrelle Prior can't sell his own personal property without the NCAA making it a federal case. The NCAA's rules are outdated and illogical.