Windfall From New College Football Playoff Should Be Used to Benefit the Players and Achieve Gender Equity in Athletics

The NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision’s (FBS) athletic directors and college presidents are poised to approve a four-team football playoff to determine a national champion.  The move is being made for two primary reasons: 1) to avoid inevitable anti-trust legal challenges to the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) model; and 2) to make a boatload of more money on the backs of “student-athletes.”

In effect, the BCS is dead.  That’s a good thing.  A playoff will now be used to determine the college football champion at the FBS level.  That’s a good thing.  (However, a 16-team playoff would be the fairest model for all FBS members and the preference of most fans.  The four-team model being considered will likely increase the gap between the haves and have-nots of college football, not lessen it.  But that’s a discussion for another day.)

Revenues will jump for everyone involved in college football — except the players that produce the product.  That’s a bad thing.  In addition, due to the arms race in college football, Title IX inequities between the genders will undoubtedly grow.  That’s a bad thing.

The playoff is expected to result in approximately a $500 million windfall for big-time college football.  Given that college athletic directors, conference commissioners, and college presidents can’t regulate or control themselves, it’s likely the new revenue will simply be used to pad the wallets of college football’s power brokers, while also intensifying the absurd arms race in the sport (e.g., the building of new and more opulent training facilities and stadiums, more multi-million dollar salaries for glamour head coaches, etc.)

Here’s an idea for esteemed college presidents, how about using the money for the exploited athletes that are putting their bodies on the line for the rich cats while in a lot of cases not even receiving a scholarship that meets the full cost of attending college?

Or, how about using the money to help female athletes finally achieve equal opportunity status on college campuses — something mandated by Title IX 40 years ago?

Better yet, why not do both?  A new revenue stream of $500 million can go a long ways toward easing injustices in college sports — if you stop building new sports palaces and paying football coaches insane salaries.

According to a joint study by Drexel University’s Department of Sport Management and the National College Players Association that examined football and basketball teams from FBS colleges, the room and board provisions in a full athletic scholarship leave 85% of players living on campus and 86% of players living off campus living below the federal poverty line.  Moreover, the out-of-pocket shortfall for “full” scholarship athletes to attend college was approximately $3,222 per player during the 2010-11 school year.  Meanwhile, more and more head college football coaches are nearing the $5 million annual salary level.

College football is a multi-billion dollar industry for all stakeholders, minus the labor force, of course.  Relative to everyone else with a hand in the game, the players are nothing but slaves on the plantation.  That arrangement needs to finally end.

Regarding Title IX and the gender inequities in college sports, according to a National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) report on Title IX, although both male and female participation in athletics has grown steadily, female students lag behind in every measureable category, including participation opportunities, receipt of scholarships, and allocation of operating and recruiting budgets.

In 2007-08, while female students comprised 54% of the college student population, female athletes received only 45% of participation opportunities, 86,305 fewer opportunities than their male counterparts. 

Moreover, female college athletes received only 34% of sports operating dollars, which is $1.17 billion less than male college athletes.  Females received 45% of college athletic scholarship dollars, which is $166 million less in scholarship dollars than male college athletes.  And females are the recipients of 32% of recruiting spending, which is $50 million less than their male counterparts.

Here’s the scary — and sad — part:  Despite common perceptions of a gender gap that’s closing in college athletics, the gap in opportunities between male and female athletes has actually expanded in recent years.

Title IX is a fair and just law.  The issue is really about colleges doing the right thing (which means investing in women’s sports, not cutting men’s sports) and creatively finding ways to equitably distribute opportunities – and dollars — in athletics.  The $500 million windfall from the new college football playoff represents the perfect opportunity to do the right thing and move toward making gender equity a reality.

“Athletics participation is of value to both men and women,” argued former NCAA president Myles Brand.  “Let us leave no one behind because we think sport participation is the right of one gender over another.”


College presidents’ decisions regarding how to use the huge infusion of revenue from the upcoming football playoff deal will reveal what they truly value when it comes to education and college athletics.  They have a chance to move away from the old win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) models of decision-making in favor of policies that fairly and justly addresses two major civil rights issues in intercollegiate athletics today:  1) The exploitation of FBS college football players; and 2) Gender inequities in college athletics.

To that end, we recommend that half of the approximate $500 million windfall from the college football playoffs go toward funding stipends for the players and half go to helping university athletic departments reach compliance with Title IX.

1)    Establish a Funding Mechanism to Benefit the Players

 The first step is to fully cover the cost of college attendance for FBS football players.  As mentioned above, the annual out-of-pocket shortfall for “full” scholarship athletes to attend college is approximately $3,222 per player.  According to the Drexel/NCPA study, covering that shortfall for the 85 scholarship players from each of the 120 FBS football teams would cost $32.8 million.  Assuming Title IX compliance would require that female athletes receive a similar benefit, that amount can be doubled for a total of $65.6 million annually.  That amount could be derived from the new college football playoff revenues and should be considered the bare minimum in terms of using the new college football playoff revenue to benefit athletes.

Second, trust funds should be established for college football players out of the $500 million coming in from the new playoff system.  Athletes could access these funds when they complete their degrees.  This step would symbolically communicate the importance college presidents place on education – the mission of universities – while also serving as an incentive for players to complete their degrees.  According to the Drexel/NCPA study, only about 45% of FBS college football players currently graduate.

Third, a portion of college football playoff revenues should be set aside for a return to multiple-year scholarships (four or five years) for athletes.  The one-year renewable scholarships currently in effect are based on athletic performance and have nothing to do with education.  With one-year renewable scholarships, coaches can drop players based on their performance on the field, even if the athlete is excelling in the classroom.  A return to multi-year scholarships would be another strong statement by college presidents about the educational mission of their institutions and the role athletics should play.

2)    Establish a Funding Mechanism for Moving FBS Institutions Toward Title IX Compliance

 This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation mostly known for leveling the athletic playing fields for our sons and daughters.  In fact, there is much to be celebrated.  For example, as a result of the opportunities created by Title IX in 1972, almost 3 million girls play sports in high school today compared to fewer than 300,000 before Title IX.  The rate of growth is similar for college female athletes.

However, we remain far from a gender equity situation in college athletics today.  In fact, the gap is growing not shrinking.  Thus, college presidents need to take the necessary step of correcting the gender inequities that remain in their athletic departments.

To that end, $250 million, or approximately half of the revenue generated from the new college football playoff, should be designated for rectifying the gender inequities in college sports, most notably in the areas of participation opportunities, scholarship dollars, and operating budgets for female athletes.

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Ultimately, the revenues derived from the college football playoff will not meet the requirements to fully implement these two recommendations.  As such, a percentage of revenues from all future FBS television contracts should be set aside for these programs.

Taking the actions proposed herein would go a long ways toward restoring the public’s faith in our universities in general, and intercollegiate athletics in particular.


Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

[email protected] @KenReedLofF


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