Such as free labor, that pays the salaries of multi-millionaire employees at non-profit “charities:”
Complaints that big-time college football and basketball are professional sports that don’t pay their players go back many decades. Unfortunately, the perennial status of such arguments makes it easy to overlook how radically the economics of these games have changed.
The 65 colleges that make up the economic elite of college sports — the members of the so-called Power Five conferences — are awash in an ever-growing torrent of money. Fueled by spiraling television- and licensing-rights fees, these members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 saw their athletic-department revenues double in the past 10 years, on the heels of having doubled in the decade before that.
By my calculations, the result of this exponential growth is that the average football or men’s basketball player at a major conference college now generates between $1.5 and $2.3 million in revenue for his college per year. Big-time college football and basketball now produce about $8 billion in annual direct revenue. This is nearly 40 percent more than the entire National Basketball Association (the average NBA player makes $6.2 million).
But wait — don’t big time college sports programs “lose money.” Why they surely do . . . just ask the good folks at the NCAA:
[F]our years ago the National Collegiate Athletic Association released a study purporting to show that the average Power Five conference college lost millions of dollars on sports every year, and that only a handful had revenues that exceeded expenses.
What that study really demonstrated is that there is no revenue stream that cannot be outspent by sufficiently determined administrators. Athletic departments still manage to lose money because, among many other reasons, coaching and administrative salaries are now several times larger than they were just a few years ago.
For example, the 10 highest-paid college football coaches last year made an average salary of $6.6 million, which is considerably higher than the average salary of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the NFL. (The NFL produces more revenue than any other sports league in the world). Indeed, seven-figure salaries for college assistant football coaches are becoming common.
As for administrative compensation, when I was an undergraduate at Michigan in the early 1980s, Don Canham, the university’s famed athletic director, was making $54,000 (this is equivalent to about $142,000 in 2018 dollars). Michigan’s current athletic director made $920,000 in 2016, a figure that didn’t even rank in the top third of Power Five athletic-director salaries.
Yet even these stupendous sums for administrators of what are, legally speaking, charitable enterprises, are dwarfed by the compensation now being collected by Power Five conference commissioners. For instance, Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten, is collecting — in addition to his $3.1-million annual salary — $20 million in bonus payments.
All of this highlights the unsavory spectacle of a handful of athletes — the majority of whom are African-American, and many from modest economic backgrounds — subsidizing the increasingly grotesque compensation of the colleges’ top managerial class, both inside and outside the athletic department. After all, paying the football coach $6 million a year makes it far easier, for both psychological and political reasons, to pay a college’s president $1 million, its provost $600,000, its various vice provosts $400,000, and so on.
A question for people, especially liberals, who continue to defend the status quo in the big time college sports world: Is there any level of compensation for coaches and administrators, or any level of spending on pharaonic facilities for sports dominated by upper class white students, or any amount of groveling before the great and the good when begging for alms, that would be too much? Is it OK to pay Jim Harbaugh $25 million per year? How about athletic director David “Dave” Ginandtonic five million per? Is it OK to eventually name the whole goddamned university after Stephen Ross?