24 July 2011

Bayh-Dole Meets Pay-for-Play

I have a commentary in today's Boulder Daily Camera on  "pay for play" in college athletics.  I argue that helping student athletes capitalize on their economic opportunities is a good idea.  The faculty, most of all, ought to be sympathetic since we went through our own "pay for play" debate 30 years ago.

Here is how it starts:
The on-again off-again debate over whether or not college athletes should be paid is once again heating up. In the Camera (July 15) Neill Woelk argued that paying athletes doesn`t make sense, not least because universities are broke.

As a professor at the University of Colorado, this is a reality I know all too well. Since 2005, CU has paid out $5 million to poorly performing head football coaches. Meantime, I and my faculty colleagues who bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in research funding per year have foregone raises the past three years. It could be worse though, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Rutgers University has subsidized its athletic program to the tune of $115 million since 2006, while at the same time foregoing raises across campus last year to save $30 million.

With this background you might expect me to be against paying college athletes, or perhaps even against college athletics in general. To the contrary, college athletics are a great American tradition and an important part of our university culture where we strive for excellence in everything we do. But the first thing to realize in this debate should be obvious -- we already pay college athletes. The right question to ask is whether they should have an opportunity to be paid more. I think that the answer is yes.
Head over to the Camera for the rest, and please come back here and let me know what you think!


  1. I love sports, but taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing it e.g. Rutgers. Professional sports are the main beneficiary of school sports. It wouldn't surprise me if the real cost of training a single professional athlete wasn't 10's of millions of dollars. After all unlike other professions you don't need hundreds of other participants to learn the skill. Let the pro leagues pay for at least public university sports including athletes.

  2. Mike McHenry,

    Nice thought. But since pro teams won't even build their own stadiums, don't expect them to start paying for something else the get for free.

  3. MIKE and Dewitt

    Have you two ever heard of Minor League Baseball? You know where the kids drafted and signed out of highschool and never played College ball (The vast majority of MLB players never play college ball) go to?


    Or how about Junior League Hockey? You know where the majority of North American NHL players come from, since the majority of them don't play college hockey:

    Also College Football is what keeps alot of Universities from going broke. What you thought NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and ESPN didn't pay the colleges to televise those games?

    Notre Dame alone over the last 20 years made $180 million off NBC. The new deal the Pac-10 signed will bring in around $3 billion total over the life of the contract. The Big 12 signed a $1.1 Billion deal. That money gets split between the schools in the conference. Yes some schools will get more then others in it but each school in that Big 12 deal will get close to $90 million dollars.

    Big time College Basketball brings the same type of payday. The ACC which is a college basketball powerhouse but a football lightweight signed last summer a $1.86 Billion deal with ESPN.

    Oh and Mike those numbers also cover "public" schools such as UCLA, Penn State, Alabama and Ohio State. Whenever you see a school such as Penn State or Alabama play in a BCS bowl game they just raked in $18 million dollars just for showing up.

  4. The greatest problem with paying college athletes is deciding who and how much. Programs like football at Texas, Florida and USC certainly make enough money to share some with the players. What about East Michigan and Akron? If you pay football players, do you pay basketball? What about baseball and track? Needless to say, the day you pay a football player a penny, women's groups will file a discrimination suit.

    The only rational solution would be to allow schools to pay players as they wish. So some schools would pay, and others wouldn't. Yet on Saturdays, they'd have to play against each other. Seems to me that the cure is worse than the disease.

  5. boballab

    The top name U.'s make money, but most like Rutger's a publicly funded one are losing. Notre Dame is a private school BTW. I didn't mention HS but the taxpayer is subsidizing pro sports there too before the baseball minors.

  6. the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Rutgers University has subsidized its athletic program to the tune of $115 million since 2006

    Athletic scholarships tend to be justified by the fact that most college athletics ends up being a profit center for the school. I.E. The ticket sales, tv rights, t-shirt sales etc outweigh the cost of the program.

    If we compare minor league baseball to college athletics(basketball and football don't have minor leagues) the minor league starting salary for baseball is $1,100 per month. Far less then the value of a 'full athletic scholarship'.

  7. So why can't I get a cap and gown with "Pielke" on the back?

  8. MIKE

    Oh dear good that point about HS baseball is so ridiculous that I suppose that you would want Dupont and Dow to subsidize High School Chemistry courses, since Dupont hires Chemists and those courses benefit them? OMG the Taxpayer is subsidizing Dupont and DOW through HS Chemistry!

    You base your argument on Rutgers but your argument is flawed. You conflate the money spent totally on athletics at Rutgers to just the football program. What you failed to take into account is Title IX. You might want to read up on that little law and how it effects athletic programs and spending.

    You also might want to look up exactly what Rutgers expenses and revenue are for both male and female athletics. As of 2010 Rutgers Men's athletics had expenses totaling $28,028,633. At the same time men's athletics brought in $28,167,510. Basically men's athletics made $138,877 profit on the other hand Women's athletics at Rutgers made $1 in profit.

    Maybe you ought to try some facts and not assertions. You see Mike B hit on the big problem with paying Men athletes, women will sue under Title IX.

  9. -7- J Storrs Hall

    Make an offer, I can certainly gin one up ;-)

    But seriously, we professors can slap our name on products and sell them if we want, in fact we do it all the time:


  10. Harrywr2

    That was the old argument prior to Title IX. Before Title IX scholarships went mostly to the programs that actually made the school money like the schools Mens Basketball or Football program. After Title IX for every dollar spent on Mens athletic scholarships a dollar had to be spent on Women's athletic scholarships.

    From there do the math when you look at the amount of scholarships a mens football program will generate with there being no comparable woman program. So to offset that the school has to offer more womens programs then mens programs.

    Lets use Penn State as an example:

    They offer 13 mens programs that have total expenses of $32,137,301 and total revenue of $82,413,326. thus they generate a net gain of $50,276,025

    At the same time they offer 14 womens programs that have total expenses of $12,910,402 and total revenue of $5,694,943. Thus they generate a loss of $7,215,459.

    Now that is a big public system with a very successful football program. So lets find a smaller school in the same area: Shippensburg

    They offer 7 mens programs that generated in 2010 $1,903,293 and had $1,985,970 in expenses. This caused a loss of $82,677. At the same time they offered 9 womens programs that generated $1,527,666 and had expenses of $1,734,939 for a loss of $207,273 over twice as much as the mens programs.

    You can look up any school here:

    NOTE: some schools data on the HTML online lookup is not correct you have to download a CSV file. (They put the same amounts for expenses and revenue).

  11. A small percentage of Div. I schools make money from athletics (~20%, IIRC). The others lose money. I teach at one of the schools that makes money; in fact, our AD is supposed to be fiscally independent of the rest of the university.

    Most big time college football or basketball programs have nothing to do with the teaching research or service missions of the university. With rare exceptions, we don't see college football or basketball players in real classes. Even though the students are steered into easy courses and given massive academic support, graduation rates are poor. A walk-on player (DL, I think) wrote a book a few years back, called 'Diary of a Husker', which gave one a good general perspective on why. After the sort of grueling training regimen a big time college athlete has, and the partying, very few of them (again, there are exceptions) can stay awake in class.

    And, to tell the truth, they have less impact on 'college spirit' than you might think. Student and faculty season ticket sales here are low and declining, which is just fine with the university, since they can turn over the seats to the general public, who need to pony up an occasional $1,000 'donation' just to keep their tickets. It's as if we have two separate businesses; a university, and a minor league athletics program, and the intersection between the two is less and less every year.

    I wouldn't pay the players, though it would have the effect of putting more of a spotlight on how ludicrous the current situation has become. Rather, I think universities need to take a good hard look at what big-time college sports has become.

    The same does not apply to less-popular sports, and does not apply to women athletes, who tend to be above- rather than below-average academically.

  12. One possibility is to not pay them but allow them to make money on endorsements/advertising. Or let deep pocketed alumni hire their mom's at inflated salaries. Why not?

  13. Lumping the sports which generate huge amounts of revenue with those that generate none and treating them the same is ridiculous. To say that non-revenue sports "lose" money for the school is a silly as saying that the chess club or phys ed department loses money for the school.

    If we simply allowed freedom to work, everything would be structured far differently. I know it won't ever be allowed to happen, but football players whose teams generate 50 to 100 million would likely get better deals than cross country runners who bring in zilch.

    BTW -- baseball is a sport with partial rides. Rarely does a player get a full ride in baseball. And comparing a minor league salary to a baseball scholarship is ridiculous. The salary quoted in a previous comment above does not include the signing bonus which can sometimes run in excess of a million dollars. Further, the minor league salary itself is artificially low because of antitrust collusion which is only permitted because of a bizarre run of Supreme Court cases which held that major league baseball is not commerce.