Friday, July 02, 2010

Doing the Right Thing for College Athletes

Ramogi Huma was a linebacker for UCLA.  He now runs something called the National College Players Association (formerly known as the College Athletes Coalition).  He has been called the "Norma Rae of UCLA" because he believes that college athletes are exploited.   NCPA argues that college athletes are fundamentally pre-professionals and should be paid like that with wages and benefits.   

Under current NCAA rules a student athlete can be given a scholarship for tuition and fees, room and board and use of books.  That is called a full ride.  If a student has additional financial need, there are two ways to solve the problem.  First, the student can apply for Federal Aid (Pell Grants), which is need based and not counted in the athletic scholarship.  But second, for incidentals like transportation expenses each Division One school has two funds which can be distributed to athletes to make sure they are covered.    A couple of years ago NCPA did a study which looked at the 330+ Division One schools and concluded that the average full ride student had a gap of a bit more than $2000 per year.   That study is complete bunk in that it ignores the role of Pell Grants and the NCAA two special funds.  If you add in those two types of payments, the supposed gap is non-existent.

NCPA is funded by organized labor including donations from the United Steel Workers.  Obviously with collapsing membership in industrial unions they may be supporting this to ultimately build union membership.  It won a case to provide $10 million in compensation to athletes - but if you read the settlement document, the lawyer's fees and expenses amounted to almost $9.5 million.   That may have provided some additional resources to athletes but like so many lawsuits, its real compensation went to the plaintiff's attorneys.

The governing body for college athletics (at least the largest one) is called the NCAA.  At times it has been run by coaches and athletic directors and in my opinion to the disadvantage of student athletes.   Some of those especially from not very distinguished colleges and universities think athletics determines the reputation for an institution.   But in recent years there has been more balance.   When one of the last TV contracts was signed part of the revenues were sequestered to allow for the special funds to aid students.  But there are still questions of how to deal with student athletes (the vast majority of whom will never play professional sports).  

The real issue for me is whether the existing structure with its flaws is better than an environment where student athletes are more like employees.   In my mind, the latter will offer fewer opportunities for students with some athletic ability to get an education - and that is what athletic scholarships were originated for.

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