Outside of toiling away for The Chronicle—I kid, I kid (not really, please send money)—I work in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. And by work, I mean I do nothing for the most part of four-and-a-half hours. Sometimes I’ll sharpen a box of pencils, other times I’ll put together some visiting packets; all in all, my job is equal parts thoughtless tasks, equal parts reading articles online, and, today, equal parts writing this column. For my time (and effort, I guess) I get paid more than nine dollars an hour.
Why am I telling you this? Because 12 days ago, in one of the more stupefying interviews I have ever had the displeasure of reading, The New York Times granted Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins the platform to say his piece in regards to college athletes getting paid. So now, much to the chagrin of everyone who hates fairness and all those profiting off the work of thousands of 18-22-year-olds and the college system, I’m here to tell you why they don’t get paid, and why they should.
The System Is A Sham
The first and most prominent issue of why colleges and the NCAA are so against paying athletes actual salaries like the employees they are is because of the convoluted system they have created.
What colleges have done is actually kind of genius; while jacking up the cost of attendance at a private university to a mind-numbingly outrageous $60,000-plus per year, colleges have somehow made you and me believe the experience and the education are worth that much. I mean, really, how do you put a price on education?
Well, it would appear you keep not-so-gradually increasing tuition, hide behind financial aid numbers that (rightfully) benefit those of less privileged backgrounds, leave the middle out to dry and take the rich ones for all their worth. Then, when you’ve established yourself as a top-10 university, you tell yourself, your students and their families, that this whole experience is probably actually a bargain.
And so once that money-wringing plan is established, you can look at the athletes who make you even more gobs of money and point at that big $60,000 and say, “Well, no, we’re not paying you, but look at all this money you’re saving! You should be welcome that we’re providing you with such a fine education for no cost—except your body and your time.”
You see, universities try to hide behind the facade they’ve built that fools you into thinking a college education is worth a specific dollar amount. And since it is a service, it seems the industry—because at this point, it’s what it seems like—has agreed to continually jack up prices and lead students to believe that with the increase in price comes an increase in quality of education. And to an extent, that’s true. (Then again, tuition has been raised a few thousand dollars and campus has gotten worse each year and none of my classes have really gotten better, so maybe not.)
But to think the education you provide grants you an out of paying people who work for you or sharing the profits you make off every No. 5 jersey sold is heinous and actually—in the real world that college apparently does not exist in—illegal.
'Here’s how they gon’ come at you'
Like Hov told Drake (correctly, I might add—RIP Meek), I shall now tell you how the detractors, like our dear old Father Jenkins, will try and shoot down the mere thought of—gasp!—paying people for their work.
They will say, “Yeah, but what about Olympic sports? They lose us money, so most of our profits have to go to pay their expenses.”
For sure, man, for sure.
That’s an inadequate excuse because colleges and the NCAA are looking you dead in the eye and trying to draw on your sympathetic heart strings by bringing up the poor Olympic sports and how, without using the leftover funds on them, we simply couldn’t afford them.
Well, and this is just a thought, but I bet that rowing house, the one ex-head coach Robyn Horner had to spend 15 (!) years fundraising to get built, probably could have been built a bit faster if Duke didn’t drop around $9 million on Coach K every year.
And again, we come to another systemic issue. There is no way whatsoever that anyone can talk to me or any other clear-minded person and bring up how the Olympic sports don’t have the money when you’re dropping millions of dollars per year on a guy to coach a basketball team whose players the NCAA and college system agree shouldn’t be paid. At least not until they leave after a year to, you know, do what they came here to do and actually make money.
‘Nobody Is Really Getting Rich’
This column could presumably go on for another 1,000 words, and I could explain to you why taking a player’s jersey he or she made popular and selling it is unethical and how not all athletes—mostly non-Olympic ones actually!—are granted full scholarships and have to pay for their education anyways and how despite this being the obvious way things should not be, nobody wants to upset the status quo and say something about it. The closest anyone has come is Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe, who said this back in 2013:
“Nobody is really getting rich off of this; we’re operating an athletics department off of all this. Do you understand how much it costs to operate an athletic department? We have 26 varsity sports and recreation. A lot of facilities and a lot of people are in place here to make it better for the student-athlete. That’s a lot of money to operate all of that.”
I truly admire Coach Cut, but in this case, I believe him to be wrong. I also believe he and I have a drastically different definition of what “rich”, in monetary terms, might mean.
This isn’t about players trying to get rich in college—that’s what the pros are for, at least for men’s basketball, baseball, soccer and football players. It’s about the sentiment that one should be properly compensated for his or her work. Just like I expect to be paid for sharpening a pencil, athletes should expect to be paid for their time and effort. People like Father Jenkins—who makes bank at Notre Dame—scoff at the thought of college athletics functioning as the minor leagues; he scoffs at the belief that players are entitled to anything more than an education that the majority of scholarships don’t fully cover.
Well, Father, like I get paid to open PowerPoints and pre-med students get paid to kill rats in labs, athletes, too, deserve a slice of the pie. And by my count, schools and the NCAA have plenty of pie to go around. That’s my “north star.”
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