As college sports get bigger, some want athletes to get more of the money

The Takeaway

College sports generate about $6 billion a year, from ticket sales, licensing deals, broadcasting rights and other sources.

And while college sports encompasses dozens of sports, hundreds of schools and thousands of teams, most of that money is derived from teams playing in just two sports from a handful of schools: Division I football and Division I men’s basketball.

And of that $6 billion, coaches are receiving a ever-larger piece of the pie. In football, for example, major college football coaches made an average of $1.36 million per year. Many make vastly more. But the group of individuals who actually make the teams go, the very reason for the teams’ existence, aren’t seeing their piece of the pie grow: that’s the players.

College student athletes generally receive a full or partial scholarship in exchange for their athletic competition. In football and men’s basketball, they’re typically full scholarships. But many are saying they deserve a bigger piece of the pie. But a simple proposal to increase the amount of their living expenses grants, to come closer to the actual cost of attendance, sparked a revolt among many universities who don’t want to be on the hook for giving more money to players. The NCAA is set to review the proposal again next week before deciding whether to move it forward.

Joe Nocera, an op-ed columnist for  The New York Times, outlined another way to pay athletes in last weekend’s Times Magazine.

“It’s a scandal,” he said of student-athletes not even receiving enough in scholarship money to cover the actual cost of attendance. “I think for Division I football and basketball, where there are no minor leagues to go to if you don’t want to go to college, it’s really not that great a deal for a lot of players.”

Nocera said many athletes are under-qualified to attend and major in eligibility, basically. They work more than a full-time job on their sport, to make huge money for the universities.

“They’re the labor force. And the labor force should be paid,” Nocera said. “They are serfs. They are chattel.”

Nocera said Title IX is definitely the weak point in his argument. Title IX requires equal treatment of men and women across colleges, including in athletics. That basically guarantees that if men are going to be paid for playing football or basketball, sports that generate the vast, vast majority of the revenue, women playing field hockey or basketball would also have to be paid, despite their sports making little or no money.

“I believe other sports they should not be paid,” Nocera said. “Partly because universities can’t afford it, but also because every other sport can be justified as part of what the university does. Football and men’s basketball cannot be justified that way. They’re giant, enormous, commercial entertainment latched onto universities.”

The World Listener Survey 2024

We’d love to hear your thoughts on The World. Please take our 5-min. survey.