Saturday, March 29, 2014

Getting Paid

We have been hearing the big headlines the past week of the Northwestern football players getting approval on their first step to form a union for themselves.  Of greatest importance to them wasn't "getting paid", it was health insurance and not letting the university revoke their scholarships if they got cut from the team. 

In general, there seems to me to be a giant "pay them" wave coming over most fans as relates to kollej sports.  I have a few thoughts that may or may not all tie together, as there are a lot of moving parts to this thing.

First and foremost, the NCAA is probably one of the most horrible, corrupt organizations this side of FIFA.  I think the whole thing started to collapse on itself during the Cam Newton scandal, when Auburn pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table, and the NCAA bought the bluff.  Since then, they can't even punish Penn State for all of their misdeeds with anything but a token bowl ban and some scholarship reductions.

With that out of the way, the players at the NCAA level need to think twice about becoming paid employees.

Jeff Carter writes this brilliant piece about the subject.  Here is just one great thought:
As soon as athletes start getting paid, there will be someone else that wants to get paid.  The government.  Right now, scholarships aren’t taxed.   Players don’t pay state and local taxes. Once they get paid, why should they be different than pro athletes?  They will have to pay taxes in the state they reside and will have to file income tax returns in every state they play a game.  That includes bowl games and playoff games.  These sorts of tax filings will require hiring an expensive accountant to total up the damage, and do it right so they don’t get audited.  There will be a lot of ancillary costs coming their way that athletes haven’t figured into the equation.
I actually know a guy (we will call him "Rick") that has been involved in NFL players personal tax returns, and I can assure you that they are a total mess, very complicated, and very expensive to create.  But this is just one facet of being employed.  Carter lists several others in his piece.

Two sports pay for ALL other sports in the vast majority of athletic departments for NCAA schools:  football, and men's hoops.  If it wasn't for those, the athletic departments would be awash in debt.  Many still are, even with football and men's hoops programs in place as it is.  So if we pay the football players, where does that leave the women's rowing team?  Or the track team.  Or (insert sport with games attended by only family members here).  Do these players in the revenue losing sports now get to pay taxes on their scholarships?  Do they get paid zero, or get charged to now be on the rowing team?  Would the universities even have these money losing sports anymore?

To extrapolate this further, why on earth would a conference like the Big Ten even have a program like Illinois around to share revenue with?  We aren't really competitive in sports besides the ramdom good football season and some occasional hoops success.  Would the giant programs who are in it to win it simply jettison the conferences and join in a mega conference and leave the bottom feeders to fend for themselves?  Why on earth wouldn't they?  I can only imagine that in football, teams like Purdon't, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and a few others are kept around the conferences to give the top programs something to feed on and get to better bowl games (a different subject that will be addressed at a later date).

Even the SEC could jettison terrible programs like Kentucky in football and trade them out, making an SEC for football and one for hoops (where the SEC would definitely want Kentucky with their awesome one and done program).

This short blog post is just touching on a very few parts of this thing.  One thing is for sure, change is coming and at a very rapid pace.  The NCAA will not exist in its current form within a decade or less, and I hope that all of the players in the puzzle get it right, or you can kiss the lacrosse team goodbye.  For better or worse.


Brian from Chicago said...

The whole thing is a very interesting case study. I know someone who is involved with the case and it was hard to understand how NW players were able to convince the NLRB to vote in their favor. The NW program offers 4 year scholarships to their football players, and does not revoke if they get injured or if a better recruit comes along to take their spot - i.e. SEC programs. Their coach and university push education so much that over 95% of the players graduate and studies have shown that they make over the average salary of new college grads at other schools (meaning that a NW degree actually means more regardless of the limited opportunity that a player will turn pro). Finally he also thought that there was much higher likelihood of the getting a more favorable response from at state run labor board from a union friendly state such as Illinois. With all of these going against to NW, they still won their initial ruling with the NLRB, but will no doubt be a lengthy appeal process before a final verdict and what those implications will mean to college athletics as a whole.

Dan from Madison said...

I am totally stunned that this thing got rammed through so quickly, like you Brian. The appeal process will take a couple years for sure, but the NCAA is under fire from many sides, and there will be many to pick at the carcass when that is all over. Interesting times.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Q: "where does that leave the women's rowing team?"

A: Up shit creek. Without paddle.

Next time we meet in person remind me to tell you the difference between a female track team and a tribe of Pygmy's.