Stop denying NCAA athletes fair value
June, 17, 2011
By Jay Bilas | ESPN.com
Editor's note: Earlier this month, Penn State assistant football coach Jay Paterno authored a thought-provoking essay on the topic of paying college athletes. His words stirred conversation around the country and among two ESPN Insider authors in particular.
With the hope of continuing the conversation on compensating college athletes, Insider is taking a closer look at Paterno's argument. Doug Gottlieb endorses Paterno's stance. Jay Bilas offers a counterpoint.
Jay Paterno made an interesting case that a scholarship of room, board, tuition and books is a great deal for any college athlete and more than enough when compared to most of America. Paterno tacitly admits that compensating athletes is acceptable. He does not quarrel over the appropriateness of a scholarship; he simply quibbles over the amount.
Reasonable minds can differ, and I respectfully disagree with Paterno's stance.
Essentially, Paterno was telling college athletes, "Eat your vegetables without complaint because some kids are starving somewhere." That argument is one step up from my all-time favorite (as used by my pediatric dentist in the late 1960s), "Quit your crying, or I'll give you something to cry about."
Paterno believes the current scholarship is enough because "most of America" would gladly accept it. He is undoubtedly correct on that point.
But is our standard simply what "most of America" would accept? Taking such flawed logic to the extreme, Paterno makes a compelling case for limiting the compensation of college coaches.
Paterno makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits; has access to the best medical care for himself and his family (and moves to the front of the line to get it); has a car deal and a parking space; has access to free game tickets; receives athletic gear he can sell; can receive compensation to write books and speak at clinics; can receive worker's compensation; and, if fired, can apply for unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, the median income in the State of Pennsylvania is just over $26,000 per year, and over 12 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Using the logic Paterno applies to athletes, he should have his salary cut by a multiple of 10 because others would gladly accept his job for much less.