The NCAA did something smart last week. It was desperate, sure, and incredibly overdue, but smart nonetheless. Its board of directors endorsed a plan that would give the five power conferences-The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC-the autonomy to implement their own unique rules based on the significantly larger amount of revenue generated primarily by their football and basketball programs, according to the Associated Press.
If the plan is approved by college presidents and athletic directors via a two-thirds vote later this year, then some of the larger concerns posed by the unionization movement at Northwestern and the efforts of organizations like the National Collegiate Players Association (NCPA) might finally be addressed. Most notably, the five conferences can decide to allow schools to cover the full cost of attendance for scholarship athletes-which current athletic scholarships fall short of by only providing aid for tuition and fees, room and board, and books-and require guaranteed medical coverage for sports-related injuries, even if the injury continues to affect the player after exhaustion of eligibility.
That’s going to cost a lot of money. The question is inevitably going to arise if schools, especially power five schools with relatively smaller revenue totals like Boston College, can afford those kinds of costs.
The answer is absolutely yes.
BC athletic director Brad Bates was asked around this time last year, as Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA was picking up steam, if he saw a way in which proposed changes to the current system to better compensate college athletes could work.
“I think anything is on the table depending on what the outcome of the lawsuit is,” Bates said. “The challenge, of course, is there’s only a very small handful of athletic departments across the country that generate a profit every year, very few. So, the rest of the schools are heavily reliant on institutional subsidies, and so anything that increases the institutional subsidies is obviously problematic.”
And that’s true. While the athletic department stated in its 2011-12 Equity in Athletics Data Report that it broke even, with revenues and expenses totaling around $66 million, those revenue numbers include an unknown but likely significant amount of institutional subsidies from the University.
So, if BC has to rely on institutional subsidies to keep the athletic department running, how is it going to afford an extra $3,500-a-year cost of attendance hit for full-scholarship athletes as well as whatever the cost will be to guarantee medical coverage? Well, the system needs to change.
College athletics is the only major American institution wherein the workforce (the players) start off with a miniscule amount of rights, and then the people in charge slowly add benefits and improvements when they think it’s appropriate. Schools have argued for years that there just isn’t money in their budgets to compensate athletes any more than they already get, even though coaching salaries balloon every year, television contracts get fatter, and facilities upgrades happen left and right. It would be like your boss telling you that, although your specific performance had led to a 30 percent increase in revenue, the money was going to a new office space for the company and a new Porsche for him, while your minimum wage salary wouldn’t be increasing. But for some reason, this same process is okay in college sports.
Just to clarify, BC is not explicitly making this argument or openly fighting against these measures. Based on all accounts, BC is actually very good about covering medical costs for its athletes when they are injured in sports-related activities. Anyway, back to the money.
In 2012, BC spent more than $3.9 million on salaries for then-head football coach Frank Spaziani, then-basketball coach Steve Donahue, hockey coach Jerry York, then-Director of Athletics Gene DeFilippo, and former basketball coach Al Skinner, according to its most recent tax return. Really, schools can’t find enough money for the athletes? Look right here.
This would, in all likelihood, never happen, but if BC were to cut these salaries by 20 percent-essentially implementing a Players Fairness Tax-and stopped terminating contracts long before their completion (BC paid Skinner $1.77 million from 2010-2012 while also paying Donahue $2.73 million, even though I’m pretty sure only one of them can be the head basketball coach at a time), then it would’ve had more than $1.236 million to spend on its athletes. How much would it have cost to provide BC’s 164 male scholarships athletes and 187 female scholarship athletes with a $3,500 cost of attendance stipend? $1.229 million.
If you run the same exercise for 2011, BC would have $1.22 million to spend and would need $1.172 million to give every scholarship athlete the $3,500 cost of attendance. And, that’s if you use this relatively high $3,500 cost of attendance figure and include male and female athletes from all sports, even the ones that don’t generate revenue, while also assuming every athlete receiving aid is on a full scholarship and would qualify for the cost of attendance money, which is most certainly not the case.
Now, I know, I sound insane. If BC instituted a Players Fairness Tax, it would never be able to hire coaches competitively again. And if it never terminated contracts early, the men’s basketball team would only make the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament rather than finishing with an 8-24 record (sorry, low blow). But this is exactly how backwards the system is. Do these coaches and athletic directors really need to make between $600,000 and $1 million instead of between $480,000 and $800,000, when their labor force is asking for a few thousand extra dollars that essentially amount to cost of living expenses?
Why did we decide that paying Al Skinner more than $550,000 a year for three years not to work at BC is perfectly understandable, but guaranteeing lifetime medical coverage for athletes injured in Alumni Stadium or Conte Forum just doesn’t work? Why is the market value of these highly paid men determined with their, uh, what’s the word-oh yeah, employees-being capped at a minimum wage?
No, BC could not cavalierly institute this policy on its own. It would get crushed in the market for coaches and athletic directors if it was the only school with a Players Fairness Tax, and, yes, a tax like that is not even legal. But it shows that, when these decisions are eventually put to a vote, affordability is a horrible argument. Affordability is only an issue because the market is completely and unfairly skewed.
And if you don’t want to take the money away from the coaches and ADs, take it from the television revenue. In its new TV deal with ESPN, which went into effect July 1 of 2012, the ACC secured a revenue increase of about $4 million per school per year.
But that was two years ago. BC might need that money to keep paying Skinner, or to keep paying Spaziani after his contract was terminated early, or to keep paying Donahue after his contract was also terminated early, or to pay the reported $500,000 buyout it took to get new basketball coach Jim Christian to Chestnut Hill. Yeah, that makes sense. I’m glad our priorities are straight.
I cut Bates a little short in that earlier quote. Here’s the second half of it:
“How are we taking the revenue we’re generating and reinvesting it back in our students? That’s really the critical question that needs to be answered because the bulk of that money should be invested in ways that maximize the development of our students while they’re on our campus.”
Am I still the one who sounds insane?