The call for college athletes to be paid is an inevitable sign of spring, as certain an indication as orange-breasted robins and commercials for The Masters.
Former Michigan superstar and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, in between insulting athletes at Duke and getting charged with DUI, advocated in the Huffington Post that each student-athlete be paid $2,000 a semester.
Rose says college athletes are indentured servants and this stipend would help them avoid the temptation of unscrupulous boosters and other pitfalls. On the surface, this sounds like a solid idea, but parents from Mansfield to Enfield better hope it never becomes a reality.
We'll dispatch quickly with the indentured servant argument. A study published this week by USA Today places the value of an athletic scholarship at somewhere between $110,000 and $119,000 per year. This figure includes the cost of such things as access to private coaching and state-of-the-art training facilities and medical care as well as free education, meal stipends and other benefits.
At the very least, one could argue this is a fair trade of services. The school benefits from the talents of the players they recruit and the recruits benefit through an education, exposure and coaching. Most college students are familiar with the concept of an unpaid internship, indeed many are hoping to land one, and it seems insulting and wrong-headed to suggest a free education is not worth anything.
Some will argue that schools are not actually interested in educating their athletes. They will point to paltry graduation rates and recall anecdotes of kids being forced to change majors so they can focus on football.
There is much truth here and if Rose was seeking to hold schools accountable for their academic performance his ideas would be worthy of consideration. To be certain, there are legitimate obstacles to schools graduating elite athletes.
In basketball, for instance, NBA teams seek to work out prospects as soon as the NCAA Tournament ends, which means student-athletes who should be attempting to catch up on their school work are traveling from city-to-city trying to get a job.
For athletes not at the NBA level, there is still Europe. A good college basketball player can make more than $100,000 playing in Europe, but the window of opportunity is brief. These kids often forgo their academics in an effort to land a spot on a European roster.
There isn't much a school can do to stop this. However, there is a great argument to be made that scholarships should remain open to any athlete who wants to return to continue his education. That would be a fine start, but Rose and the others aren't talking about such things.
They are talking about money.
True, scholarship athletes are prohibited from accepting part-time jobs and wouldn't have time for them anyway. True, many athletes come from families unable to provide the money a college kid needs to buy pizza or a new pair of pants.
There are programs for those kids. Pell Grants and the NCAA assistance fund provide cash assistance to students who need help beyond the limits of grant-in-aid packages.
The basic problem with Rose's plan is that the math doesn't work.
At a Division I school with a football team, this means an additional expenditure of at least $300,000 on football alone. Add in men's basketball and the figure balloons to somewhere near $400,000.
Under Title IX, whatever a school spends on men's athletics it must spend on women's athletics (in proportion to the population of the student body.) For the sake of ease and clarity, let's assume an even split in the student body, which would mean an additional $400,000 on women's athletics.
The total bill is $800,000 without moving beyond men's basketball and football.
How will the schools reconcile these new expenses? The reaction will be simple. The schools will cut baseball and wrestling and men's track and men's lacrosse and golf and every other men's program they can find.
The billion dollars of revenue generated by the NCAA men's college basketball tournament subsidizes the other college sports. Without March Madness, the feel good story of Anthony Robles would not be possible. Robles, you will remember, is the Arizona State wrestler who won the national championship at 125-pounds despite being born with only one leg. His story uplifted a nation and it would simply disappear.
The College World Series? Gone. College soccer? Gone.
Few of us can expect to parent a child as athletically talented as Jalen Rose. Most college athletes don't play in front of huge crowds or on national television. Most college athletes are not simply marking time until the NBA makes them rich.
They just want to play. The plan advocated by Rose would take away their chance.