Another Way of Looking at Big-Time College Football as a Corporate Enterprise

Over the course of this college football season, there has been much talk about whether college athletes, especially those playing for major universities whose athletic programs generate millions of dollars in revenue, ought to be paid some sort of modest stipend.

Writing for Business Insider, Cork Gaines has offered a radically different perspective on this issue.

Gaines starts with the total revenues generated by the most profitable football programs in the country. He applies the scale employed in the collective bargaining agreement between the National Football League and its players’ association, whereby 47% of total revenues are allocated to players’ compensation. He then divides that 47% of the revenues produced by the most profitable college football programs by 85, the number of scholarship players that each team is permitted to have.

Here are the results, with the dollar amount being the amount that each scholarship athlete would receive in such a revenue-sharing model:

Texas: $578,000

Michigan: $470,000

Alabama: $453,000

Auburn: $428,000

Georgia: $416,000

Florida: $412,000

Notre Dame: $381,000

LSU: $378,000

Penn State: $365,000

Arkansas: $353,000

Oklahoma: $330,000

Ohio State: $322,000

Nebraska: $307,000

Tennessee: $293,000

Washington: $293,000

Oregon: $286,000

Iowa: $280,000

Michigan State: $275,000

Wisconsin: $269,000

South Carolina: $267,000

Texas A&M: $244,000

Oklahoma State: $228,000

Clemson: $218,000

Arizona State: $194,000

USC: $191,000

To put these figures in some perspective, Gaines notes that the football program at the University of Texas generates about $100 million in revenue, only about 3.2% of which is allocated to cover all of its football scholarships. Those scholarships come to about $37,500 per player, or more than $540,000 less than what each player would make if their compensation were modeled on the NFL’s scale.

The incredible revenues being generated by the major programs go a long way toward explaining why many mid-level universities are spending huge sums on—massively subsidizing– their football programs and other major sports teams. With all of the conference restructuring, a few mid-level programs have had the opportunity to become big-time programs. That is, I think that the rationale that athletics programs are justifiable because they enhance an institutions efforts in recruiting students and in attracting major gifts may be less of a factor than the possibility, however limited or even remote that it might be, of being able to generate incredible revenues.

Even though the chances of building a big-time athletic program are remote, they are no less remote than the chances of building a nationally recognized academic program. In fact, building a nationally recognized academic program will almost always take much more time than a university president can typically expect to serve. Although the process of building an academic reputation can be accelerated somewhat by major infusions of funding, proportionate allocations to an athletic program can bring quicker results. And even very mediocre athletic programs offer exponentially more possibilities for photo-ops than even the most successful academic programs. In a period in which Gordon Gee is the most recognizable university president in the country, it seems increasingly to be the case that universities are projecting the personalities of their presidents, rather than presidents being expected to project the values of the universities.

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