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 over the next two days. In two-part series, Doug Gottlieb endorses Paterno's stance. Jay Bilas present a counterpoint.
While there is a sudden clamoring for universities to pay their players, I feel otherwise based on my time as a student athlete and even after I left campus.
As Paterno points out in his column, while college players are not paid directly, they receive a tremendous amount of benefits that aid them during, and after, their time on campus. It starts with "comped" campus visits in high school and continues with tutoring, preferred class registration, choice housing arrangements and, of course, the ability to walk away with a degree and without an ounce of debt to your name. That's something that can't be understated since, per this article, overall student loan debt is actually greater than credit card debt in our country.
While many argue the unjustness of colleges profiting off of their athletes, they ignore the fact players often benefit from their schools after they leave. When you play big-time basketball or football, people want to hire you. You are a known commodity and, like the colleges, businesses too would like to profit from your presence -- and compensate you in kind. In truth, while colleges make money off the 18- to 22-year-olds for the years they are on campus, those same players live off the recognition of the school or coach they played for for the rest of their lives.
Another consideration: While on campus, schools provide their athletes with every possible aid to help them earn their degree. We so massively undervalue a college degree -- which can lead to increased earning potential in the professional world -- and overestimate the value of a couple of hundred dollars per month while in college, which may end up getting taxed anyway. That's why we need to step back and rethink the argument.
But even before the benefits comes access. Think about how many athletes, like myself, could not have even gotten into their institutions without their sporting skills. Coming out of Tustin High School I had a 3.7 GPA with an 1140 on my SAT (back when 1600 was a perfect score), yet that was enough to get into Notre Dame, where the average SAT score in my freshman class was 1350. I never could have gotten into ND, or Stanford (which told me I needed a 1000 on the SAT with my grades) without basketball. Then consider that Oklahoma State welcomed me after my issues at Notre Dame. I don't think OSU would have accepted me from junior college, if not for my athletic prowess. The same goes for bigger names like Cam Newton, who was facing expulsion at Florida for cheating when he left for junior college.
Once you're in, athletes are often given preferential treatment across the board. Socially as a male athlete, guys want to hang out with you and women are much easier to meet. Academically and athletically the school is preparing you to pursue two different career paths: sports and whatever you study. Most importantly, like Paterno states, it is all being done playing a sport you love and have played, and would play, for free.
No one, athlete or non-athlete, has a lot of money in college. And rules do allow for athletes to earn some spending money. Those who are totally financially destitute can get Pell Grants, as well. The payoff is in the end, after school, much like the future doctors, scientists and businessmen and women with whom you attend school. College is about sacrificing, learning and growing as a person. The reward for all students is the memories and experiences gained in the short term and benefiting from them in the long run.
And it's not exactly tough sledding for athletes. Take a peek at Kentucky's practice facility or Oklahoma State's locker room and while those are just basketball facilities, that is where some kids essentially live, eat and sometimes sleep.
So what of the point that players should be paid now since schools are making far more off of them? Check out these numbers. The truth is that while schools are profiting more than ever from their media rights, the rise in costs of scholarships -- of all kinds -- facilities and coaching staffs are exploding at an equal rate. So this entire argument is based on the fallacy that there's some pot of gold these schools are hoarding. Like leprechauns, these pots don't exist.
Keep in mind the USA Today story linked above states that only 22 Division I schools are making money. Factor in the sheer volume of athletes to be compensated -- you'd have to pay male and female athletes across the whole of college athletics -- and the economics don't add up.
Perhaps the biggest motivation behind the pay-to-play movement is that it would prevent rules infractions and other forms of cheating. Really? Because I don't see it altering human behavior. People always want more. Consider the climate now: Players get a great deal already (scholarships, perks, etc.), but they still want more (payment). There will always be someone who wants more.
Even if the NCAA were to allow endorsement money I believe it would be a mistake. First, that gives control of a player to a third party. From gambling to agent issues, once money is given, so too is control. It sounds innocent enough to have players get money from the local pizza shop or car dealership, but what if that business is just an intermediary for an agent? Kids have enough voices in their ears already. This would just add more -- and when money is involved it will also increase the noise level.
Factor in all these considerations and this is a box that no one should want to open.