The exploitation of so-called “student-athletes” borders on grand larceny.
The hand-wringing over whether the fabulous Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton deserves the Heisman Trophy in light of allegations that his father tried to sell his son’s services to another school illuminates once again the inequities inherent in the exploitation of “student-athletes” by universities who reap huge dollars from these kids’ travails.
Twenty-five years ago, two economists published an analysis of how much additional revenue Hall of Fame basketball center Patrick Ewing added to Georgetown University’s coffers in his four years playing there: $13 million in additional ticket and merchandise sales, not to mention the non-quantifiable revenues realized in future years from the increase in Georgetown’s visibility and prestige, which led to more prime-time basketball recruits and huge increases in alumni contributions. In return, Ewing received a full scholarship worth $43,000.
Ewing went on to a professional basketball career where he earned substantially more than $13 million, so perhaps the return on investment in his case was pretty good. Not so the thousands of college basketball and football players who do not continue on to National Basketball Association or National Football League careers, large numbers of whom do not even graduate.
The annual NFL and NBA drafts result in 504 selections out of 17,381 eligible Division I and II college athletes who are on scholarship. That is just less than 3 percent, which means 97 percent of the aspiring professionals do not get the opportunity to receive (deferred) compensation for their revenue contributions to their universities. Moreover, a substantial minority of draftees do not make the pro teams that selected them, leaving them, too, out of the remuneration loop.
The exploitation of so-called “student-athletes” borders on grand larceny. It is time that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the universities begin paying the entertainers who bring in so much revenue. Everyone prospers — the institutions, their presidents, definitely the coaches, the fans, the alums — except the kids who put paying customers in the seats and in front of the TV screens.
Colleges constantly lecture us about academic freedom and the marketplace of ideas, et al., while wallowing in hypocrisy about their student-athletes. They, of all places, should not be the “last plantation.”
If you want to see just how abusive this system really is, check out ESPN’s riveting documentary “The Best That Never Was,” about Marcus Dupree, the University of Oklahoma running back whose story is a classic example of rampant exploitation and gross college misconduct.
Richard Hermann is a part-time Canandaigua, N.Y., resident and Canandaigua Academy graduate. His columns appear in the Canandaigua Daily Messenger.