POINT: Should college athletes be paid?
Collegiate athletics is big business, allow student athletes to share the wealth
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Point/Counterpoint appear in the November issue of the Illinois Business Journal.
By EMANUEL “CHRIS” WELCH
College athletics is a business, a billion-dollar business.
Since 2010, college basketball’s premier tournament “March Madness,” has brought and will continue to bring in $19.6 billion in television contracts to the NCAA through the year 2032.
College football is similarly a highly profitable affair. ESPN reached a deal that paid the NCAA more than $5 billion for the rights to the college football playoffs and associated bowls from the year 2014 through 2025 — a half billion dollars annually for six games per year.
That’s roughly $25 billion in revenue, just for postseason games. Individual conferences also generate billions on regular season television contracts and millions more on ticket sales, jerseys and other athletic apparel items.
Just last year, the NCAA reached a significant milestone, surpassing $1 billion in annual revenue for the first time in its history. Business is booming.
While the NCAA pulls in record levels of cash, coaches at higher education institutions are being handsomely rewarded. Here’s a few of the salaries coaches in Illinois receive: University of Illinois Football Head Coach, Lovie Smith, $5 million; Northwestern Football Head Coach, Pat Fitzgerald, $3,619,775; University of Illinois Men’s Basketball Head Coach Brad Underwood, Illinois, $2,755,450.
Lovie Smith even holds the title of highest-paid public employee in the entire great state of Illinois. Our state is not an anomaly on this front; in fact, nearly 80 percent of states’ highest-paid public employees are head coaches of either football or men’s basketball teams.
As I said, college athletics is big business. Yet, does a single student athlete of any sport receive a dime from the NCAA and it’s billion-dollar-a-year business model? Nope. Not a single dollar. And they are prohibited from receiving any form of compensation from using their own likeness or image to endorse or sponsor any business or product.
While cash flows into university coffers and coach salaries, the young people driving this economic machine are left out, many of whom come from impoverished areas.
Employment is often not viable for student athletes. As a former collegiate baseball player, I experienced first-hand the same rigorous schedule facing young athletes today. Between practices, games, and studying for class, realistically these young people don’t have the time for a job.
Student athletes bring in an undeniable amount of funds to higher education institutions. Why not allow them to accept compensation for sponsorships and endorsements?
That is why I introduced the Student Athlete Endorsement Act, House Bill 3904, to allow student athletes at all colleges and universities in Illinois to receive compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness in endorsements and sponsorship opportunities.
While a handful of elite student athletes on the path toward playing professional sports could make significant sums of money, the vast majority of athletes would have the opportunity to receive smaller sums of cash from local businesses. The students that stand to benefit the most are playing at smaller schools and could earn an extra buck at a meet and greet at the local car dealership or mom and pop restaurant.
The endorsement opportunities would also give these young people real-world career skills and experience that will serve as an asset as they further their athletic careers professionally, or, in the vast majority of instances, as they enter the workforce searching for their first jobs as college graduates.
My legislation would not only help players, but also local businesses, which will have the opportunity to draw in customers with new promotions, events, and marketing campaigns. Higher education institutions are regional economic engines and this proposal would help spur local economic growth, for these communities across Illinois, whether it’s in Champaign-Urbana, DeKalb, Edwardsville or Charleston.
Furthermore, there’s no denying the significant advantage that this proposal offers to Illinois’ college teams in their recruitment efforts.
The status quo is broken. Each year, a new collegiate program is embroiled in a scandal for paying players. And at the end of the day, oftentimes players face the harshest consequences. Take the five-game suspension Ohio State Quarterback Terrelle Pryor received in 2010 for selling signed jerseys and other memorabilia for a few thousand dollars. The scandal led to the end of Pryor’s playing career at Ohio State, causing him to fall in the NFL draft and costing him millions of dollars.
If we legalize and regulate how athletes can be compensated, we can help put an end to the seemingly endless cycle of recruiting scandals and unfortunate situations like Pryor’s. While also incentivizing student athletes to stay in school and finish their degrees as they are able to receive monetary compensation while still enrolled.
My proposal is the fair and equitable thing to do for college athletes in Illinois. I am proud of the momentum we have already built for this legislation. It’s not a partisan issue, and we have both Democratic and Republican cosponsors. I look forward to continuing this debate, passing this legislation and giving collegiate athletes the opportunity to receive the compensation that they deserve.
Illinois State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, represents the 7th House District. He has proposed a bill to pay student athletes in Illinois. Another, similar law has been signed into law in California. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.