I know this is not a sports blog, but from time to time there are things that happen in sports that have a greater impact in our lives than what happens on or off the field.
Recently, as I am sure you have seen, the president of the University of Missouri was forced to step down amid some racial tension. Now he was only forced out after the African American players on the football team said they would not play until he stepped down. What is very interesting is that their coach, Gary Pinkel, stood behind them and supported their decision.
I do not know everything about this story just the basics, and I am not saying the president did the right thing or that the student athletes were right in what they did. On campus a black student said he was called racial slurs, and there was a swastika drawn in feces on one of the bathrooms on campus. Now both of these incidents are unacceptable in every way, however, I do not even begin to know how to handle either of them. Luckily for me I am not the president of the university. Still what can you do as president that shows you are on top of a situation like that, and I want to be clear that I am by no means defending the president for his actions or lack thereof. My question is again what could he have done to prove to the university that he was taking action so these things never happen again? I do not have an answer to that question.
What I think is most fascinating is that Pinkel stood behind his players and seemed to be of the sentiment that things were bad on campus and needed to change. So while I do not know all the details it certainly looks like there was more going on at UM than has been reported, there is also something to do with the cutting of benefits of graduate assistants on staff. Again I don’t know all the details but it appears at first glance that this whole mess is not totally racially motivated, yet some of the students are using this aspect for other reasons. While I think the above mentioned issues are unacceptable, I am not sure if they are the reason behind the strike or if is more the issue of the cutting of benefits, could be both. However, if it is both, I think it is dead wrong to use race as the motivating factor. Also, I do not think going on strike is magically going to get your benefits back, but that is whole other political issue.
So what now? The president may have not done enough, but despite the uproar of the student population and a six day hunger strike by another student had little to no effect. Which I again find somewhat surprising. Only when the football team got involved did this seem to grab the attention of the president. None of the other stuff seemed to bother him, but once the football team got involved then that was the real issue and a decision had to be made.
This to me shows the power of student athletes, and as a former division I athlete I think it is really cool to see something like this happen. Not that a man lost his job, but the fact that there is a group of people on every campus that can demand change and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. I am not going to get into the racial or the political stuff, what I am saying is that student athletes have the real power they just do not know it.
Again as a former D I athlete I experienced the NCAA and all its wondrous glory first hand, there is a lot of sarcasm in that last sentence. I cannot explain how much I dislike everything that organization stands for. I have heard every counterargument there is on how much good they do and how much opportunity they provide for students. It is all a farce and the major driver is money and television deals, which is why when the UM football team got involved the president immediately stepped down. UM was looking at playing BYU at Arrowhead stadium in front of 70,000 plus people this weekend with millions more watching at home. It’s all about money. Certainly there was some outside pressure from any number of people wanting him to step down.
I think the NCAA is one of the most worthless state run originations on the planet and that is saying something. I put them on par the FIFA, yeah I know! They have created a system where the actual people making all the money get exactly 0.00% of the profit they help to produce. How is that possible, how does that make any sense? The argument against this is that they get a free education room and board and the price of that is payment enough. I understand the logic here, I truly do, but it does not make sense. You are going to tell me that a superstar football player at Ohio State, Alabama, or any number of other schools should be satisfied with having his extremely overpriced education paid for?
Let’s say that on average an out of state student athlete tuition is about $20,000 (that is an average number but is fairly accurate). Now, let’s us also say that because this athlete is superstar that they will only stay at the university for three years, which is in accordance with NCAA rules, after which they enter the NFL draft. I am not here to argue if the player should stay in school, that is irrelevant, and I assure you that if you were offered $8 to $10 million to leave school before graduation you would leave in a heartbeat.
So the student athlete gets, over three years, $60,000. That is not too bad, plus you have to add in meals. Although any student who has a meal plan gets these as well. Now let’s look at what this superstar athlete makes for the university. Let’s call him Jim Bob. Jim Bob is the star of the team and has helped lead the team to an undefeated season. Along the way hundreds of thousands of fans have bought his number 7 jersey because they like him. His team has an opportunity to win their conference title, which they do so and make the college football playoff. You can check out the payouts for each team here.
From what I have gathered a team that makes the playoff will get $51 million for the conference, to split amongst all the teams in the conference, an additional $6 million for each team that makes it again to be distributed among every team in that same conference, plus an additional $2.08 million for all travel expenses for both the semifinal and final, if it applies. So if a team makes the national championship the school will get $684K (57/12 – there are usually 12 teams in every conference). That does not seem like a lot of money, but that does not factor in any television deals, athletic apparel contract such as Nike or Under Armor, or ticket sales. So when this is all said and done Jim Bob has helped the school make millions of dollars. The B1G says that 12 of its 14 schools will make over $45 million on their TV contracts, that article is from 2014, so I would assume that number is only higher now.
So let’s say that Jim Bob helped his school make around $50 million, (45 from the TV deal and let’s say another $5 from Nike). I think that is a fair number. Let’s say that ticket sales were about $40 million in revenue for the year. So the total for the year with everything included is about $90 to $100 million. Wow that is a lot of money! I will also say that not every school will make that, but that is beside the point.
Now, Jim Bob is happy he got is $60k in tuition paid for and now is on to the NFL. While all this looks fine and dandy Jim Bob didn’t even was not allowed to take advantage of a measly 1% of the millions he helped the school make, how is that possible? I will also say that he was in large part the reason of the success and why the ticket sales were so high along with jersey sales which benefited Nike. Yet Jim Bob is an amateur he cannot make money even on his own likeness. So when a fan buys his jersey Jim Bob gets $0.00 on that sale even though the fan is buying his likeness, something that is so basic in terms of copyright law. Again, how is that possible? I remember signing away my rights when I played. Every player signs a form that the NCAA has the right to use your picture and your likeness in any promotion they want, and I get nothing from it. Now I played soccer so it didn’t matter one way or the other because, there was no way I or anyone was ever going to make money off my likeness. Regardless, I still felt like one of my most basic rights was being taken away by signing that piece of paper. Think about the some superstars that you see on billboards and television commercials and how Nike and Under Armor are selling millions in merchandise and the athlete gets nothing. Nothing!
It would seem that the athlete’s hands are tied there is nothing they can do. WRONG! They have way more power than all these television networks, coaches, and even the NCAA. What if a group of players similar to the UM football team goes on strike saying we will not play until we get paid. Then another team does it as well, then another then another, what then? All of a sudden the product on the field is demanding a share of what they are producing. And the massive engine that drives the money making machine comes to a screeching halt.
As a college sports fan I think the athletes should be paid and I would support a strike as I mentioned and the dismemberment of the NCAA. The argument of overinflated cost of education holds no water with me. I went to a private university which over 4 years would have cost about $120k, but I was on scholarship so I only paid approximately half. But still this was not a bargain, and the cost of that education and the prestige of the school did almost nothing for me. It was overpriced and the money spent would have gone just as far at a community college or a small state school.
We will see what the future holds but I would not be surprised to see big changes in the near future for college sports, I think it is high time that we do away with a system that was established in 1800’s England. The system was established to keep the poor from competing in sporting events. The poor people needed to make money while competing and the rich basically said we don’t need to get paid, we’re rich, so if you are getting paid then you cannot compete, you are not an “amateur.” How is that system still in place over 150 years later. Amateurism is a joke! No one on this planet can convince me that these student athletes are getting a fair deal. It seems that I am not the only one with this idea.