It's bewildering, at least to me, that many people think fairness demands we pump more money into big-time college sports.
Many people are applauding a new law in California that allows college athletes to be paid. Supporters of the measure argue it’s only fair that star athletes share in the billions of dollars college sports programs generate.
They have a point.
But the much larger counterpoint is this: There already is waaayy too much money in college sports.
First, let’s be clear about the sports making the money. Only football and men’s basketball make substantial sums of money. And then only at the top 100 or so programs.
Second, let’s be clear that most of the athletes in those programs receive something in exchange for their talents. They receive not only a college education, but also free tutoring, meals, a place to live, and lots of free shoes and clothing.
At the University of Kansas or Kansas State University, the annual value would be at least $25,000 a year, never mind an elite school such as Stanford, where tuition alone is about $50,000 annually.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans go into debt to get college educations, and they spend a decade or more paying off the loans.
So the claim that college athletes on full scholarships receive nothing for their work doesn’t sound just a sour note. It’s a whole halftime show that is off-key and out of step.
That’s not to say current NCAA rules work well. The college sports organization has grown into a nonsensical monster of regulations and restrictions.
The NCAA works to increase revenue in an industry that already generates more than $14 billion a year, while also pretending college sports are a pure, amateur endeavor.
Into that dichotomous dynamic, mix in wealthy fans who are willing to donate big bucks and break the rules to win. Then add millions more for coaches, some of whom are similarly inclined.
California and many others argue that pouring more money into the system will improve its integrity. The NCAA, in response to pressure from California and elsewhere, has signaled it’s fine with paying athletes — at least the stars.
We are headed in the wrong direction. Rather than pay college athletes, why not cap what colleges that accept public funds (including student grants and loans) can spend? There also could be NCAA limits on total annual expenditures for a sport.
Admittedly, such rules might not work, because the agents, benefactors, coaches and players have so much at stake. With the desire to win so outsized, it’s easy to understand why rules get bent and broken, especially when penalties are relatively mild.
It’s fair to say most big-time sports programs are primarily interested in winning and sustaining the big-money system. They tolerate the morass of NCAA rules because it allows them to reap extraordinary sums.
According to a USA Today analysis of 2018, the University of Texas generated nearly $220 million in sports revenue to top the nation. KU ranked 33rd with more than $106 million in sports revenue, and K-State was 50th with nearly $87 million.
Paying college athletes wouldn’t make the system fairer. It would simply make the rich richer. It also would serve as an example of society putting its money where its values are, making clear that we think winning games is way more important than education.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.