The Arguments For Paying College Football Players Are Absurd

Gary BrownCorrespondent IIAugust 20, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Lineman Marcell Dareus #57 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball after an interception against the Texas Longhorns during the second quarter of the Citi BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California. Dareus would score on the play giving the Crimson Tide a 24-6 lead over the Longhorns.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images


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There are three reasons people consistently offer when they advocate for paying college football and basketball players. Their arguments sound noble as they seek to correct some perceived injustice being experienced by the most high profile of college athletes, but in reality they do not make economic sense or actually solve the problems inherent with  agents, recruiting, financial circumstances, or any of the other challenges that seem to plague big-time college sports.

Here are the typical reasons for paying players advanced by writers, commentator and radio hosts on this subject:

  • The players are generating significant income for the schools and deserve a piece of the pie.
  • It is unreasonable to take kids from the toughest of economic situations and not provide them with any pocket money.
  • If a stipend of some type is given to players it will curb their need to deal with agents or boosters to get money.

Again, all of these sound noble in intent and seem to be correcting some perceived wrong, but in reality they are all flawed, if not flat-out wrong. Here are the facts for each one.

Piece of the Pie Argument

Screams that players deserve a piece of the pie for the revenue they generate are the most absurd of all. They are getting paid!

According to studies the average cost for a year of college at a state university is just above $15,000. Every player on scholarship is receiving this. For players who choose to take their talents across state lines the price tag can grow to the levels charged by private colleges, which average over $35,000 per year.


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Earning a full ride for athletics will include tuition, accommodations, food, and books. These items cost money. If not,  it will have to be explained why so many families who have kids that won’t have their expenses met be an athletic scholarship spend years putting aside money for their kids to attend college. Why do so many young people invest hours looking for other scholarships, creating debt that has to be paid back or find employment to pay the bills?

If you consider the funds spent by an athletic department for scholarships the same as payroll the expense becomes over one million dollars at the public school average cost for just football. The tag to a private university could be almost three million dollars.

The pie does not end with just football players though. A portion has to be provided to pay the cost of athletic scholarships for women’s volleyball, baseball and other teams. Under Title IX a school will have at least 85 women’s scholarships to award just for playing football. This at least doubles the cost of “scholarship” payroll.

Players are not the only expense schools face either. To varying degrees athletic departments have to maintain their facilities, provide equipment for sports, pay coaches and administration, recruit and dozens of other items that are just part of the business.

Pocket Money Argument

Every year the stories are repeated about players who are so poor they can’t afford to even go with their buddies to get a coke. First, most college students face a shortfall in funds at some point. That is just life.

Second, it is just not true that kids from the most difficult of economic situations have no money to buy a burger with. As a matter of fact, the kids who might struggle the most to grab fast food with their buddies are those that come from middle class homes.

Pell grants can be the best friend for college football and basketball players that come from economically difficult situations. While the majority of these grants are provided to households with an income under $30,000 annually, it is possible to qualify for some amount with income as high as $60,000.

The maximum award for a grant during the 2010-11 school year is $5,500. Now remember, athletes already have their school-related expenses covered, so none of this money is required for those costs. A player who receives the top amount available will have just over $100. tax free dollars to spend each week. Plenty of college kids survive just fine with much less than that.  

The Cheating Will End Argument

This is the most naïve of all the arguments advanced. For some reason, we assume that giving a teen or early twenty-something a few dollars will make him incredibly virtuous when faced with the temptations offered by an agent or booster.

What do most people want once they get something? More. Even if every kid on the football team is provided a cash stipend each week they will remain vulnerable to the offering of agents and boosters, who will still have their same incentive to provide money or perks to athletes.

What are the best solutions for keeping schools out of trouble with the NCAA from issues that are impossible to completely monitor? Check back later for solutions to this ongoing and thorny problem.