If there is one lesson to be taken from the Heisman trophy won by Cam Newton, it is that amateurism, the one component that separates the NFL and NCAA, doesn’t mean much. Now, don’t blame Cam Newton or his dad, because the NCAA system exists to promote “amateurism,” which is basically code for unpaid indentured servitude.
The NCAA has developed the best possible economic scenario: national exposure of its product, insane revenues, and virtually zero expenditure on payroll. Since its inception, the NCAA has exploited its workhorses with an egregious lack of concern for its participants. In one particularly damning example, the NCAA went so far as to develop a new designation for athletes in order to avoid Workers Compensation claims.
After losing The University of Denver v. Nemeth in 1953, in which the court determined that the University of Denver would have to provide athletes with Workers Compensation provisions, the NCAA created the “student-athlete” designation. This feat of linguistics ensured that athletes would not be technically under the employ of various member universities and consequently not covered by Workers Compensation.
Athletes are there under scholarship, making them only entitled to the standard benefits available to college students – access to the university clinic and on-campus amenities. Because they’re just normal students that “full ride” scholarship covers everything, right? Not quite – a report by Ithaca College details how the average “full scholarship” Division I athlete winds up having to pay $2,951 annually in school-related expenses not covered by grants-in-aid.”.
I hear the typical reaction from here, “Oh no, how will athletes ever afford three thousand dollars a year.” One should remember though, that athletes – especially in football and basketball – are more like investments and can bring significant sums of money to the university. How significant? Since the 2006-07 season, each BCS bowl has been worth $18 million to the participating conferences. There are 75 participating teams in the six BCS member conferences for an average conference size of 12.5, earning each school somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.4 million.
Furthermore, Division 1A (since retitled “FBS,” or Football Bowl Subdivision) allows for 85 scholarships per football team. With a little calculation, we find that each one of the 85 scholarships nets about $17,000 for those BCS schools just from the Bowl Championship Series. A healthy return indeed, considering the massive corporate sponsorship money, alumni donations, and advertising involved in collegiate sports. And yet, “full scholarships” at universities are anything but full.
Boise State’s post-season fate is a recent example of how impossibly broken the NCAA payout system is. In early December, Nevada beat Boise State, sealing Boise State’s fate of being left out of the National Championship game. The loss, more importantly, bumped Boise State out of contention for a BCS bowl – all the way down to the significantly less prestigious MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
More fascinating, though, is that fateful night, in both teams’ final game of the 2010 season in the Western Athletic Conference, Nevada cost every school in the WAC about a million dollars. There are 11 teams in the WAC, and their haul from a BCS bowl would be a little over $1.6 million per school. However, because Boise State got knocked out of BCS contention and to the MAACO Bowl, the WAC member schools will only be receiving about $90,000.
It’s not even just the big schools raking in cash. Small schools benefit as well, though the process is a bit more painful. Often, major teams will schedule small schools early in the season as pushovers – warm-up games to help ease into the season before conference play starts, as well as the benefit of guaranteed wins in a system where any loss is catastrophic.
Imagine me making air quotes around “guaranteed” though, because occasionally the stars align just right and you get this:
These small schools, sometimes with four figure enrollments and less, make road trips to some of the country’s largest schools because there’s a significant payout for doing so. An article in USA Today goes over just how big some of the payouts are, including a few monster deals, like Navy and Arkansas State earning a million dollars each for playing games at Ohio State and Auburn, respectively. And in the video above, Appalachian State earned a smooth $400,000 for beating Michigan in Ann Arbor.
So there’s plenty of money floating around collegiate football. Surely the athletes, in their position as the sole drivers of the college football economy, should be allowed to earn a little cash on the side? But they’re not, at all – the NCAA even suspended AJ Green for four games for selling a game-worn jersey?
But wait a minute, didn’t Nebraska make something like $48,000 from auctioning off game-worn jerseys? Oh, you mean they did. And there were no ramifications at all, because they were in compliance with NCAA rules because they removed the players’ names from the jersey.
Let’s make it extremely clear: the NCAA abuses its workforce. So when you see Cam Newton flash those pearly whites accepting his Heisman, don’t blame Cam. Don’t think about any transactions that might have occurred, or whether representatives for him tried to acquire money for his services. None of it affects his on-field talent, and until the NCAA stops exploiting players in the pursuit of profit, those same players will look to alternative methods to be compensated for their talents.
Matt Emeterio is a sometimes-writer, sometimes-computer jock born and raised in Southern California. When he’s not updating one of his myriad fantasy sports leagues, he can be found near a mirror practicing his Norv Turner impression.