Study: College athletes live in poverty while earning millions for their schools—By Charles Hallman, Staff Writer

A new report strongly suggests that big-time college football and men’s basketball players should be paid for their efforts while in school. “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport” was released Sept. 13 by the National College Players Association and Drexel University Sport Management Program.

It contends that the NCAA rules force players to pay for thousands in college-related expenses while their athletic abilities clearly contribute to a million- or billion-dollar industry. Drexel University Sport Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky, who co-authored the report, said in an MSR phone interview last week, “The revenue-producing athletes’ terms and conditions in which they comply essentially have not changed from the 1950s to the present day.” Yet the players receive athletic scholarships that only cover tuition, books, and room and board. The report notes that athletes on full scholarship often are not covered for all school-related or out-of-pocket expenses.

Staurowsky said that since there is no present formula to determine the fair market value of a revenue-producing college athlete in football and men’s basketball, the report used the revenue-sharing models of the NFL and NBA.

As a result, the report surmised that if they were paid for the amount of work put in: • Football players in the top 10 programs would have fair market values of between $345,000 and $514,000, and • Basketball players in the top 10 programs would have fair market values of between $620,000 and $1 million. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a single individual earning $10,890 or less is living at or below the poverty line.

Therefore, the “Price of Poverty” study concludes that 85 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) athletes on full scholarship living on campus, and 86 percent of those living off campus, actually “earn” less than the federal poverty level by $1,874 on campus and $1,794 off campus. The study also shows that the poorest football and basketball players at schools with generated combined football and basketball revenues of $30 million or more in 2009-10 live between $3,000 and $5,000 below the poverty line.

This also includes the University of Minnesota, which had a combined football and men’s basketball revenue of over $46 million in 2009-10, but their on-campus and off-campus players live $3,314 below the poverty line. Meanwhile, FBS schools receive huge revenues through attendance at games.

Over 100 million people attended at least one college sport game in 2008, resulting in multi-billion-dollar television deals: • The University of Texas now has a sports network expected to generate $300 million over the next 20 years. • The Big Ten Network earns $2.8 billion annually, Southeast Conference and ESPN $2.25 billion, and a Pac-12 television deal hopes to net at least $3 billion over the next 12 years distributed equally to their respective member schools. • The NCAA has a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Sports for the annual men’s basketball tournament each March.

Additionally, the men’s basketball coaches whose teams competed during March Madness in 2010 earned an average of approximately $1.4 million. Football coaches in major programs get at least $1.3 million. Four of the six commissioners in the major football conferences earn more than a million dollars per year, and athletic directors’ six-figure salaries range from $481,000-plus in the ACC; over $500,000 in the Big Ten, and over $543,000 in the Big 12. Even the NCAA president makes over a million annually.

U of M Athletics Director Joel Maturi last week told the MSR that football and basketball revenues are used to financially support the school’s 14 non-revenue sports. Paying players “would kill these sports,” he believes. Staurowsky proposes the following remedies: • Create an “educational lockbox” and put a portion of this revenue in it for players to cover educational costs if their athletic eligibility ends before they graduate. • Allow players to seek their own endorsement deals, get paid for signing autographs, etc. • Create new legislation that will allow universities to fully fund their athletes’ educational opportunities with scholarships that fully cover the cost of attendance. • Eliminate the current one-year scholarships and offer multiple-year scholarships in all sports. • Congress should examine all aspects of college sports to implement comprehensive reform. Travis Bledsoe, a recent North Dakota graduate, said the revenue-sharing idea, especially the “educational lockbox,” is a good one. “I think they should be entitled to some of the [TV] revenue — at least to help out with school,” he surmises.

His Division I basketball scholarship “paid for all of school and books” and helped covered his apartment rent, but he added that without a Pell Grant, “I definitely would still need more money to cover” out-of-pocket expenses. As football and basketball players continue to make huge money for their schools, big-time college sport “does need to have significant reform,” concludes Staurowsky. “What was adopted 60 years ago is not working any longer.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to