By Ken Reed
Two teams, filled with terrific athletes, gave us a national college football championship game for the ages on Monday night. In a back-and-forth game, Alabama finally prevailed, 45-40, over Clemson.
The entertainment value of the game was extremely high. The players, on both teams, put on quite a show. However, unlike other big-time entertainers, the players weren’t generously financially compensated. In fact, they weren’t compensated at all. The Alabama players got nifty hats and t-shirts that said “National Champions” on them. Clemson players got a pat on the back and “Great effort!” kudos. Today, they are back in their classrooms while the executives who used the players to create the big game entertainment product count their money.
For today’s discussion of the economic injustices in college athletics, let’s just focus on the salaries of the “Power Five” conference commissioners.
As the Washington Post’s Will Hobson and Steven Rich recently pointed out, the salaries of the Power Five commissioners have risen quite dramatically the last ten years or so.
“In a decade, tax records show, average commissioner pay in the so-called ‘Power Five’ — the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pacific-12 conferences — has soared from about $541,000 to $2.58 million,” wrote Hobson and Rich.
“As a reward for making an industry fueled by unpaid athletes more lucrative than ever, the men who run these conferences have enjoyed staggering pay hikes doled out by the leaders of many of America’s largest universities … From 2004 to 2014, the average CEO of a large American firm got a 15 percent raise, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute. The stingiest raise for a Power Five commissioner during that time: 258 percent, for the ACC’s (John) Swofford.”
To consider this on an annual raise basis, the Big Ten’s commissioner, Jim Delany, has received the equivalent of a 19 percent raise for 10 consecutive years. How many people do you know getting annual raises like that?
College sports certainly pay well for some people, just not the athletes putting on the show.
The players’ compensation has risen approximately a couple thousand dollars a year. A decade ago, a full scholarship was tuition, room and board. Starting this year, the Power Five conferences voted to give athletes an additional “cost of attendance” stipend that typically is a couple thousand dollars a year. That’s like Delany, Swofford and their Power Five peers giving the athletes money they found under their sofa cushions.
The money is definitely there to more fairly compensate athletes if the NCAA power brokers wanted to do it. But they don’t. They like the current system.
ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to televise the College Football Playoff and many of the bowl games. Most of that money goes to the Power Five conferences, of which Alabama (SEC) and Clemson (ACC) are members. That’s a lot of money for football programs that don’t have to pay their players.
It’s time we stopped treating big-time college football the same as a Division III lacrosse game between true students. Power Five football players are clearly highly valued in the marketplace. But the NCAA has declared that a scholarship is all they should be given, and our lawmakers and courts are letting them continue to get away with it.
That’s good for guys in suits like Jim Delaney and John Swofford. It’s bad, and grossly unfair, for the elite athletes that left their blood, sweat and tears on the field during the national title game on Monday night.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Episode #19 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Capturing the Spirit of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Anika Orrock – We discuss the hoops AAGPFL women had to jump through to play the game they loved as well as the long-term impact and legacy they have in advancing sports opportunities for girls and women.
Episode #18 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking about the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and the Lia Thomas Controversy with Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Hogshead-Makar is a triple gold medalist in swimming, a civil rights attorney and CEO of Champion Women.
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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