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Porto: Play For Pay



(Host) Commentator Brian Porto is Deputy Director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School. Having heard several recent arguments in favor of paying college athletes, he suggests that we might want to consider some reasons for not paying them.

(Porto) Lately, some prominent voices have called for college football and men's basketball players whose play earns substantial revenue for their schools, to be paid. For example, author Taylor Branch has written that the tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid [covertly], but that more of them are not [being paid openly].

To be sure, knowing that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports for the rights to televise its annual men's basketball tournament, tempts one to agree that the players should share in the bounty in return for making it possible.

But before jumping aboard the play for pay bandwagon, consider the results of a study published by the Delta Cost Project of the American Institutes for Research in January 2013. It examined athletic and academic spending, between 2005 and 2010, at public universities that belong to Division I,which includes the NCAA's most athletically prestigious members. The study found that in 2010, the universities in the sample spent almost $92,000 per athlete, whereas the median academic expenditure per fulltime student at the same institutions was only $14,000. The study also found that athletic expenditures increased at least twice as fast as academic spending, at these institutions, on a per capita basis, between 2005 and 2010.

Therefore, although college athletes receive no salaries, they are subsidized generously, benefiting from excellent coaching, facilities, and medical attention in addition to their athletic scholarships. And the NCAA maintains a Special Assistance Fund that enables needy athletes to purchase clothing, course materials, medical and dental services not covered by insurance, and goods and services associated with family emergencies.

Moreover,the study by the American Institutes for Research made clear that most Division I institutions (including the University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire) do not earn a profit from sports, hence would likely be unable to pay salaries to their athletes. Indeed, between 2005 and 2010, most Division I universities helped to balance the budgets of their athletic departments by transferring to them institutional fees, including student activity fees, ranging from $3 million to $14 million annually.

Thus, whenever the debate about paying college athletes rages, it's necessary to remember that they are already subsidized, including by their non-athlete classmates, and that few institutions are financially able to pay salaries to their athletes.Whatever conclusion one reach es on this matter, it's important to consider both sides of the debate.