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Those who profit from college sports continue to be in denial about change

Bowlsby Getty Images

Anger, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Those whose oxen will be gored by the inevitable sea change regarding college sports currently reside in one or both of the first two phases of grief, advancing flimsy arguments aimed at avoiding or at least delaying the dawn of a long overdue day of reckoning.

Texas A.D. Steve Patterson got the ball rolling with his “if you don’t like playing for free, then go get play pro ball routine,” ignoring the barriers that currently existing to, for example, a high school player going straight to the NFL.  Now, the Commissioner of Patterson’s conference has chimed in with an argument that uses populism as a human shield for the fat cats making millions off the labor of others.

“I don’t think student-athletes are employees,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during a lecture at Kansas State University, per the Wichita Eagle.  “I don’t think they should be characterized that way.  I don’t think that is what higher education is about.  I think it would forever change what Americans have come to love.”

Over the years, a lot of things that “Americans have come to love” have changed.  For a variety of reasons.  Americans had come to love vinyl records.  Americans had come to love 8-track tapes.  (Actually, I doubt that many Americans actually loved those things.)  Americans had come to love free downloads of music via ultimately illegal Internet file-sharing services.

Some changes, like the LP and the 8-track, to things Americans have come to love happen via innovation.  Other changes, like the elimination of free music downloads, to things Americans have come to love happen due to the rule of law.  Regardless, the things Americans have come to love routinely change — and the folks who lament it the most are those who lose the most money because of it.

Just ask anyone who used to make money from the purchase of camera film.

The colleges in the conference Bowlsby runs will lose money if they have to pay players.  That’s why he hates the prospect of losing this specific thing Americans have come to love.

ESPN president John Skipper, who also spoke against paying college athletes at the same lecture, will see his company lose money if college athletes are paid.  No broadcasting entity has deeper and more extensive ties to college football and basketball than ESPN.  If it suddenly becomes more expensive for those schools to do business because players must be paid for their labor, those costs can in turn be passed on in part to those who televise the games.  And only so much of those costs will be passed along to the consumer via higher monthly rates for the various ESPN networks.

“I’ve never seen a system that works for paying players,” Skipper said. “Who are you going to pay? You really want a system where Johnny Manziel makes $8 million and his teammates don’t make anything?”

Smart point, for obvious reasons and for those that don’t meet the eye.  By shifting the focus to the challenges inherent to coming up with paying college athletes anything, the colleges can continue to pay nothing.  And ESPN can continue to not have to subsidize the eventual new reality of college sports.

Eventually, that’s going to end.  Whether through unionization or antitrust litigation or some other legal tactic, winter is coming.  The goal now seems to be simply delaying change for as long as possible.

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33 Responses to “Those who profit from college sports continue to be in denial about change”
  1. jebsta16 says: Apr 3, 2014 10:52 AM

    Then how about no more scholarships for athletes who get paid to play. I do think the ncaa will have a tough time winning this argument when coaches are making multi millions of dollars while there are kids struggling to pay to attend college. The money could be used much better.

  2. axx1 says: Apr 3, 2014 10:53 AM

    Florio keeping it real

  3. cuda1234 says: Apr 3, 2014 10:55 AM

    Who, exactly, should get paid? Most collegiate sports programs lose money. All of the government-required girls sports programs lose money. Most of the athletes on the football programs don’t directly contribute to the financial success of the program. Where do you draw the line?

  4. sportswright says: Apr 3, 2014 10:56 AM

    Northwestern has a union basketball team now apparently. Change is certainly coming to the NCAA.

  5. daltongang1 says: Apr 3, 2014 10:56 AM

    I disagree that they should be paid. Once you play football players, then next comes the cheerleaders then baseball players, then the collage Tennis players, then all student athletes will want to get paid. This will eventually drain Universities of the resources they get from sports and cause all students rates to go sky high….

  6. citizenstrange says: Apr 3, 2014 10:56 AM

    TRUE STORY: I had an 8-track tape of “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.” The plastic part was hot pink with of course the album cover label.

  7. myshkingfh says: Apr 3, 2014 10:58 AM

    If only there were a system where open competition between people seeking to purchase skilled labor and people seeking to supply skilled labor could arrive at a mutually agreed price! If only we lived in a country built on – I’m going to coin a phrase here – free enterprise! Then I guess we would know what Johnny Manzeil and his teammates’ labor was worth.

  8. klattubarada says: Apr 3, 2014 11:00 AM

    So if student athletes become employees you don’t need them to go to class because they are employees not students.

    Why would you make an employee waste their time going to class instead of getting better at their job?

    If an employee is bad at their job why keep them around if their performance starts to dip?

    Does title 9 apply to employees? Why would it?

    Why have a rowing team if it’s not making money? Why have rugby or lacrosse or women’s volleyball? A lot of schools will drop their non-revenue sports as scholarship sports. Is that what we really want?

  9. humptyfratz says: Apr 3, 2014 11:00 AM

    Looks like their cows are coming home to roost.

  10. raideralex says: Apr 3, 2014 11:00 AM

    Players will make a small percentage of overall profit made by their program. This amount is already public record.

    Player at major program would thus make more than player at small program, as it should be.

    Playing time will be factored in. More difficult math calculations have certainly been created before.

    Scholarship is still included: player simply makes extra percentage of extra revenue generated due to his talents.
    By now we know non-scholarship students pay for scholarship students anyways.

  11. medialovesthecowboys says: Apr 3, 2014 11:01 AM

    Players don’t need to be paid.

    But if a guy wants to make some money by selling an autographed football, I don’t think he should be suspended for the year. The NCAA looks super hypocritical when they pull this move on guys.

  12. 60oldschool says: Apr 3, 2014 11:01 AM

    The golden goose is about to explode, maybe they should of figured out a way to get these kids some pizza money and not get suspended for using the phone in the coaches office to call home.

  13. pilonflats says: Apr 3, 2014 11:02 AM

    those who fanatically believe that unions are always good for workers continue to be in denial about how society has changed

  14. benjerd says: Apr 3, 2014 11:03 AM

    They do get paid already via scholarship. That should be enough already.

  15. thestrategyexpert says: Apr 3, 2014 11:16 AM

    Take away their profits by putting non-greedy people in power and in charge. Let’s redefine what kind of country America is all about.

  16. wishingtonredslur says: Apr 3, 2014 12:19 PM

    Isn’t getting handed a degree you didn’t earn enough?

  17. vikingworldorder says: Apr 3, 2014 12:25 PM

    So you’re telling me that college athletes get a free college education, access to state of the art training facilities, access to a plethora of other amenities that normal college students get, and did I mention a FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION and on top of all that (plus other amenities I didn’t mention) they want to get paid? The NFL is for getting paid, college is to play for the love of the game.

  18. dragonflypack says: Apr 3, 2014 1:02 PM

    With the head injury facts, “playing for the love of the game” is over. Done. Gone. You give me a headache with that stupid argument.

  19. judsonjr says: Apr 3, 2014 1:07 PM

    What’s most interesting to me is that the people driving this via lawsuit are the guys who were stars in college, and then either had no pro career, or flamed out in the pros. They got famous from their tournament run or their big time football program, but at the next level their talents were shown to be sub-par.

    I think the “killing the golden goose” cuts both ways. College football and basketball provide a platform that makes stars. While those stars are talented, they are not necessarily the best at their trade and could very well be replaceable. Example, take the top 20 QBs out of the NFL and it’s a very different league. Take the top 40 out of college football and it makes no difference, there’s a new crop of freshman QBs every year.

    These ex-players are thinking they 100% drove the success of their programs and feel ripped off about not getting paid. However, a lot of what drives college sports is the massiveloyal fanbases and marketing hype. You put Ed O’bannon on a good UCLA team and he’s a star. Take him and the rest of that team outside the NCAA, and you probably have a handful of guys that can grind out a living overseas in relative anonymity.

  20. doe22us says: Apr 3, 2014 1:14 PM

    If they want to get paid, make it to the pro’s or get a job elsewhere.

  21. cuda1234 says: Apr 3, 2014 1:27 PM

    If we all agree these kids get compensated for their performance why aren’t they paying taxes on their compensation like everyone else? Wouldn’t all these guys be 1%ers? Doesn’t the government deserve their cut of the money?

  22. cometkazie says: Apr 3, 2014 1:57 PM

    Ka-ching!

  23. milliondollardream2 says: Apr 3, 2014 2:57 PM

    I think what I would like to see is capitalism and free markets prevail here. If college football plyers want to use their free market economic power to shove instead of getting shoved around that is their right. This isn’t communist ussr. They wouldn’t have to do any of this if schools had to bid for their services like they should in a free market system.

    If their skills talents and abilities generate revenue they should be compensated. The same people that are against and give this a thumbs down are the same people that are whistle blowers for socialist programs. Yet not allowing these players to get compensated for the money they generate is extremely socialist. No different than taxing all their income. If the schools don’t want to give them scholarships anymore or the government taxes their scholarship why we they care? They will still make more money. The money is there wait until these programs are forced to open their books.

  24. russrpm says: Apr 3, 2014 4:09 PM

    If the NCAA doesn’t want to pay the players while continuing to profit from their labors, they should at least guarantee that athletic scholarships continue until graduation with a bachelor degree, or 6 years, whichever comes first, instead of the one year contracts that are forced onto the athletes now. (Six years is the time it takes the average student to complete his degree now. ) If the NCAA is serious about the athletes being students, the goal should be to graduate as many as possible, and once a scholarship is awarded, the coach should not be able to pull it before graduation, as long as the student’s grades are adequate. Too often, marginal players’ scholarships are pulled because the coach thinks a freshman is a better player. In effect the coach is firing the player, just like you would an employee.

  25. nyjetsfan08 says: Apr 3, 2014 4:44 PM

    I never really thought the costs being passed on. Think about it. It will go from the college football program/umbrella organization -> ESPN -> Cable Provider -> You. Ergo, if these college athletes — even just male football and basketball programs — will get paid, YOU will have to foot the bill, even if you don’t watch college football or basketball! Unless you cut the cord and get your sports another way, at the very least, this will give cable companies an excuse to pass on the costs to you.

    Personally, I don’t watch college football or basketball. I listen to the sportstalk and know what’s going on, but I don’t actively seek out its programming.

    I hope John McCain’s vision comes true, where we can choose our channels a la` carte. I barely watch ESPN nowadays.

  26. cometkazie says: Apr 3, 2014 5:21 PM

    If the players at Div I level were interested in an education, they probably wouldn’t be playing football.

    That said, I know a number of former LSU OL who are physicians and dentists. Also one running back.

  27. mediasloppy says: Apr 3, 2014 5:22 PM

    What is wrong with you people and talking down to these football players. They aren’t Unionizing for all the petty reason you seem to think. Go read up on what they really want.

    It’s not going to become the new normal. It’s for Colleges that make MILLIONS off of these players who may or may not ever play Pro football.

  28. wheresallthecommonsense says: Apr 3, 2014 7:30 PM

    They should pay players but keep it in a trust that they only get upon graduating. If they fail to graduate, they forfeit the money.

  29. dirtmcgirt24 says: Apr 3, 2014 8:15 PM

    Students A and B receive scholarships to go to school, because for various reasons the school really wants the students to attend.

    Student A, a gifted student with the potential to work on important research which will bring fame to the school, works in the student store, selling sweatshirts and license plate frames to make a couple of bucks for the school, and earns a nominal wage for doing so.

    Student B, a gifted quarterback with the potential to bring fame, lucrative television contracts and popularity to attract future generations of students, plays football, and not only earns nothing, but can’t accept a dime from anyone.

  30. richc111 says: Apr 3, 2014 11:07 PM

    Instead of paying players why don’t they cap the salaries of coaches and AD’s. Use that money for more scholarships for more sports at every university. Seems simple

  31. jacksprat57 says: Apr 8, 2014 11:49 AM

    It’s always thus. Those who make their living from corruption are ill-equipped to make an honest one. All too often, it proves necessary to string them up.

  32. radar8 says: Apr 16, 2014 1:31 PM

    Of course paying players will hurt those that are making a fortune off of the game, but that’s a horrible excuse not to pay the players.

    That would be like slave owners complaining that if they free the slaves, cotton will be so much more expensive.

  33. radar8 says: Apr 16, 2014 1:38 PM

    THis whole argument disgusts me. It’s the rich make the rules and the hell with everyone else.

    SO it’s OK for the coach and the school to make millions of dollars, but let’s make sure that we keep those poor people poor.

    Most of the NCAA football players will not go to the NFL. They are giving their hearts and souls to a college and many of them don’t even get a good education out of it.

    THe argument that you can’t pay the players because it will cost the viewers more is bogus. THe cost to watch NCAA football is determined by the market, not how much money people get payed.
    ESPN and others that air NCAA football price their services by this simple formula….. What’s the most we can charge before we get to the point of diminishing returns. They always charge as much as they think people will pay, regardless of what their costs are.

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