WHEN IT comes to paying college athletes, things often get a bit confused.
We saw another example of that last week when a new report from an athletes-advocacy group placed the value of a scholarship at a Football Bowl Subdivision school at roughly $121,000 a year and a similar basketball grant at $265,000.
The report, titled "The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport,'' is the product of the National College Players Association, headed by Ramogi Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA who penned the study along with Ellen J. Staurowsky, a professor at Drexel University.
In principle, what the report asserts is true: College players in the huge revenue-producing sports of football and men's basketball deserve to be paid. But that assertion is bogged down by the NCPA's sketchy math.
Exactly how is a football scholarship worth $121,000 a year? There are 10,200 scholarship FBS players (85 players times the 120 teams). If each scholarship is indeed worth that figure, then that would place the yearly revenue for players alone at roughly $1.234 billion. In basketball, thanks to the 345 Division I teams playing with 13 scholarship players, there's another $1.188 billion.
Who could come up with that kind of money in these tough economic times? The University of Texas has the highest athletic-department budget in the nation at $120.8 million spread over 18 sports.
The NCPA places the worth of these scholarships in a hypothetical scenario where college football and basketball programs shared revenues as professional sports do. The problem there is that there are varying free-market values of each scholarship. A star linebacker at Eastern Michigan, where 4,771 fans saw the Eagles recently beat Alabama State, is hardly worth the same as his counterpart down the road in Ann Arbor, where 114,804 fans and a national TV audience saw Michigan edge Notre Dame the same day.
The report's attention-grabbing scholarship values aside, further down lies where real progress can be made. The report calculates the financial shortfalls of athletic scholarships at between $952 to $6,127 a year, which leaves most athletes living below the poverty line. It also opens the door for the real problem -- boosters and agents making illegal payments to cash-strapped players.
Making up this cash shortfall isn't impossible -- especially if the NFL and NBA, the leagues that benefit from the NCAA's free feeder systems, finally pay up.
Beyond what a scholarship covers, an annual stipend of $2,000 for the roughly 14,685 football and basketball players would cost just under $29.3 million a year. Considering that the NFL and NBA had gross revenues combining to exceed $13 billion last year, the money is there.
Sadly, the two pro sports leagues have been involved in nasty labor wars to pay the players they already have even less. So getting them to pay for their future players might not be easy.
Yet a principled, courageous 20-year-old who challenged the legality in court of the NFL and NBA drafts could tip the scales of justice. If their precious drafts are threatened, somehow NFL and NBA owners might just be able to find their checkbooks.
Then the players would benefit, which is what the NCPA wants.