$68 million reasons why college football players are already being paid

(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)

On Wednesday the University of Oregon released photos of what their spanking new $68 million “Death Star” of a football facility looks like now that it’s completed. To say it was impressive would be an understatement. However impressive it was, it also got me to wanting to punch the next 18-year old football player I hear talking about “getting paid” square in the face.

Not because of jealousy or envy or anything like that, but because that 18-year old doesn’t realize an economic concept that disproves the theory that college football (and basketball) players at the highest level aren’t being paid.

What do I mean by that? Well, obviously we’re not talking about receiving a salary or stipend or anything of that nature. What I mean by “pay” is better defined as compensation and by the looks and economics of things, BCS football players are more than fairly compensated for the work they do.

You may recognize compensation as things like insurance, an on-site gym, reduced gym club membership prices, free coffee and doughnuts in the break room, etc. – Those are all things done to attract a desired workforce and part of what the company considers “compensation” in one form or another.

It’s very hard to argue that FBS and especially BCS players aren’t handsomely compensated for their hard work and time spent on their craft. No, they don’t make a direct salary, but that whole full scholarship thing easily replaces that, as well. They also receive things that a normal college student (their peers in the work environment, if you will) would most likely never achieve in their entire lives along with services provided to them at NO COST that a single college student (unless they’re Johnny Football rich) could never afford. That is where the new Oregon “Death Star” comes into play.

This facility includes things like a movie theater, about a zillion flat screen TV’s all throughout the place, a pool table, multiple foosball tables, multiple therapeutic pools and a full on cafeteria and nutrition area dedicated solely to the football team. There is plenty more but I think you get the picture – the place is loaded with about every creature comfort a grown-ass man could ever want, let alone a college student.

It’s just the latest in the crazy “facilities race” that has now extended to a full lifestyle race in the hopes of attracting 18 year olds that expect the best of everything to be provided to them for playing the game of football.

For instance, the latest trend for most college football teams is the hiring of nutritionists to work out full-on individualized meal plans and dietary needs to maximize food consumption, calorie intake, and recovery (and that’s just scratching the surface of what they can and do actually do). The average salary in the open market for one nutritionist is $47,000 dollars according to basic research.

That’s $47,000 dollars that not a single one of the scholarship athletes have to pay for, yet they receive the full benefits of their services. That’s right, they get meal plans, weekly consultations, and more – things us normal folks would pay an arm and a leg for – FOR FREE as part of their compensation for playing college football.

Just think about this for a second – you walk around the weight room after you are done working out to impress the lady you’ve had your eye on in that Intro to Business lecture and you see a smoothie and nutrition bar at the end of the weight room. You walk up to it and there’s an individualized smoothie designed to maximize the workout you just completed and replenish the calories you just burned that you’ll need to sustain and you just take it… no strings attached.

That is not happening unless you are lucky enough to be an athlete at an elite college that provides those services and it’s a trend that’s not going away at the major college football level anytime soon.

So, to summarize so far…. Each student-athlete receives a FREE education, FREE food, FREE clothing, and FREE shelter – I’d say that’s a pretty sweet deal up front considering that means the basics of life are all taken care of for you as a student-athlete.

Going even further into this matter, there’s this little myth about the NCAA. The narrative goes something like this – “The NCAA makes millions of dollars every year on the backs of us as college athletes and we don’t see a dime of it come our way.”

In fact, there was a study done that suggested a lot of things about the “earnings potential” of student-athletes. The study suggests that the average BCS football player is worth over $1 million dollars in the time he is at the school. The problem with that is said study takes into consideration the TV contracts as the basis for what the players’ earnings potential is…. All without realizing that said money is used to fund athletic department budgets and those pesky scholarships those players receive.

Yes, the NCAA makes a crap ton of money every year thanks to TV rights, but last time I checked the NCAA is a non-profit organization and therefore they aren’t “making money off the backs of athletes” any more than the Salvation Army is “making money off the backs of volunteers” during their red kettle days.

Here’s the real truth, the NCAA pours the vast majority of the money it earns on it’s rights deals with ESPN and CBS/Turner Sports (reported $770 million on “March Madness” alone) into supporting the 79 other championships it puts on and the rest goes back into the member conferences and institutions based on performance at said tournaments.

College football obviously is a whole different animal in its setup, but the end game is the same. The money flows directly to the individual teams and conferences, as well.

You can argue about exploding salaries paid to athletic administrators and NCAA personnel all you want, and you may have a valid point. However, it still doesn’t address the underlying issue at hand – where is the money to pay players going to come from?

At the end of the day, the VAST majority of that money paid out from TV contracts and sponsorship agreements goes back to help the schools you, as a student-athlete, are playing for. That money, in turn, is spent on all the amenities you receive as compensation on top of your education.

Sure, there are a few athletic departments that make some good profits, but for most those “profits” are poured back into making things even better for the student-athlete. Better coaching (better salaries = more attractive option to best coaches), better facilities, equipment, and on and on and on.

All of those things cost money and lest we forget, collegiate athletics still must operate in the parameters of Title IX as well. So, if you’re paying college football players XYZ amount of money, you best believe they’ll be required to pony up proportionately for the ladies, as well.

By the time all is said and done, those “profits” players and some of their advocates talk about are more than gone – in fact, most athletic departments wouldn’t be able to exist PERIOD. Just 23 universities were in the black this past fiscal year alone, I'd hardly calling that "making money off the backs of unpaid players" as a general statement.

Still not on board or following my logic? Let me try it this way then… As part of the compensation a school like Oregon is providing, one of the extra benefits is a football only facility (is there a real NEED for these things to play the game of football every Saturday? NO). So, the Ducks, and Phil Knight, made a $68 million investment in those players.

That means for each of the 120 football players on a roster (scholarship and walk-ons) they’ve made an investment of $566,667 dollars per athlete (in total) in just building that extra facility.  Add on all that is spent on the free stuff they get for agreeing to play a game under the university’s athletic department and you’re looking at a hell of a compensation package.

One of the most interesting parts of this debate to me is the fact that those who want a bigger slice of the pie going to the student-athlete or are suggesting that they flat out “get paid” fail to produce much in the way of realistic suggestions on how they think things should work inside the NCAA model. All the proposals have come from those on the administration side of things.

Any argument that others have tends to go off of the model as it’s currently structured and that’s a problem, because in reality you would have to fundamentally alter what exists today to achieve said goals and therefore, also fundamentally alter said player‘s ability to tap into that system that is making everyone else around them rich.

So, I ask this question…. What exactly is it that they are purposing? Is it a complete overhaul of the NCAA model? Or, is it adding an extra $3,000 dollars a year to a player’s pocket? Or, is it really all about football and basketball players seeing a lot of money being thrown around (all to their benefit in the end) and just wanting a piece of that huge money pie?

If it’s the latter then perhaps we should look at what that really means. What exactly would be the point of collegiate athletics existing in the first place? No one is forcing the NCAA model down your throat. There are no rules that state you have to play college football to become an NFL player, just that you must be three years out of high school (or 21) before you can become eligible for the draft.

Why not just open yourself up to the free-market economy. Start a league for football players from the ages of 18-23, call it a feeder league or whatever you want to market it as and see exactly what you’ll get for it. That way player ABC can make their “fair market value” and look towards a future in football. They don't need the compensation of a college education anyway, right?

That’s the rub though, isn’t it? The “fair market value” of a player in a true minor league system is vastly different than the money and compensation that the current NCAA and collegiate football structure provides and that means far less is likely to be earned than what people are telling these players right now and, at the end of the day, what they receive in compensation in the current model far outweighs their potential salary from a minor league system.

Now, that doesn’t mean there can’t be and shouldn’t be some changes to the structure of how the NCAA defines “amateurism” and on the face I believe that schools should find a way to monetarily compensate players (whether through stipend or percentage of stuff sold) for the use of their likeness in marketing and such, but that’s different than the argument so many are making about paying players to play the collegiate game.

At the end of the day I find it really hard to feel sorry for a football player who is receiving a free education, the best in medical care, the best in coaching, the best in creature comforts, and are being set up to be successful in life FOR FREE.

For more of Andy's thoughts on all things college sports & more follow him on Twitter @andycoppens and visit his Wisconsin Badgers and Big Ten sites here on Bloguin network. 

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About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a contributor to The Comeback as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10. He also is a member of the FWAA and has been covering college sports since 2011. Andy is an avid soccer fan and runs the Celtic FC site The Celtic Bhoys. If he's not writing about sports, you can find him enjoying them in front of the TV with a good beer!