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Big Ten Gets Student-Athlete Pay Right

DISCLAIMER: Penn State is an anomaly when it comes to college athletics. You cannot base any opinion on this issue off of Penn State’s standards, which value graduation rates and integrity over winning at any cost. Also, stop with the “what if” scenarios. They’re a crutch.

The latest round of the “to pay or not to pay” debate was sparked when Big Ten conference officials made the issue one of their main topics of discussion at last week’s Big Ten meetings.

Before we dive into this, we need to stop pretending that athletes are the same as regular students. The comparison is not between the average college student and the student-athlete, but rather between how much money the student-athlete generates vs. how much they receive. I am aware of the debt that many college students will carry with them for years after they graduate, but those students also don’t bring millions of dollars into their college or university each year.

Now, take a second and think about the current landscape of collegiate athletics. The University of Texas is partnering with ESPN to launch the Longhorn Network, a 24-hour network dedicated to UT Athletics that will give the university $300 million over 20 years. The Pac-12 just signed a 12-year television deal with ESPN and FOX for $3 billion.

The money surrounding collegiate athletics continues to experience massive growth, so why should the compensation received by the student-athletes themselves remain level? The current system is grossly unfair to the men and women that make collegiate athletics such a desirable product for the fans and, by extension, the television networks.

The bottom line, as Syracuse University professor Dr. Boyce Watkins points out, is that the focus of this argument shouldn’t be on what the student-athletes are being given, but rather what’s being taken away from them.

Yes, an athletic scholarship is quite valuable, but I’m tired of hearing that student-athletes should be happy with what they’re currently receiving when they generate revenues that eclipse it by such a substantial amount.

The Big Ten is currently exploring what I feel is the most logical  step towards properly compensating student-athletes, which is a scholarship that covers the “actual cost of attendance” to a college or university.

We’re not talking about a “salary” here. We’re talking about extending the current athletic scholarship (which only covers tuition and fees, room, board, and books) to help cover the smaller costs, such as transportation and laundry, that come with living on your own in college. The gap between what student-athletes are given now and the actual cost of attendance is estimated at about $2,000 to $5,000 per athlete per year, according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.’s Andy Staples explains it best:

Don’t expect athletes to start pulling five- and six-figure paychecks. That’s not what this is about. It’s about making sure they can afford to buy pens and toothbrushes and the occasional off-campus meal. It’s about making sure they can pay all their medical bills or insurance co-pays, because sometimes schools don’t cover everything even in the event of a sports-related injury. Individually, no athlete will get rich if this plan gets approved by the schools in the FBS or all of Division I.

The actual cost of attendance scholarship is “an idea supported by NCAA president Mark Emmert and his late predecessor, Myles Brand, and one that SEC commissioner Mike Slive said last month is worthy of consideration” according to Factor in Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and you’re talking about a few of the most influential figures in collegiate athletics who are behind this concept.

While I don’t believe this will prevent elite players from leaving college for the pros or from accepting illegal benefits from boosters, an actual cost of attendance scholarship would help them along with the other 99% of student-athletes who train and practice for countless hours every week, all year.

Some claim that an actual cost of attendance scholarship bylaw may provide the “haves” with yet another advantage over the “have-nots”, but I don’t buy it. I understand the financial trouble that many athletic departments are in at the present time, but if such a bylaw were passed by the NCAA, schools would be given the option of whether or not to meet the actual cost of attendance standard. Also, as Victory Bell Rings explains, a revenue sharing program could be put in place in each conference to help balance the additional financial stress.

When it comes to paying college athletes, to borrow a phrase from Teddy Roosevelt,  I’m far more concerned with what’s fair to those “actually in the arena” than anything else.

Are you for or against compensating players beyond the existing form of  an athletic scholarship? Comment below, and don’t forget to read Devon Edwards’ take on why college athletes should not be paid.

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About the Author

John Tecce

John is a senior in the Smeal College of Business majoring in Marketing. He currently serves as the President of the Paternoville Coordination Committee and as a THON Chair for Nittany Nation. He tweets a lot.

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