Dave Helling | Time to give college athletes a piece of the money pie

Dave Helling
Dave Helling

Now that my bracket is completely broken, it seems like a good time to point out that college sports are broken, too.

Not the NCAA — other reporters are doing a fine job explaining how that organization combines banana-republic-like administration with rules so lengthy and complicated they make the health care law look like a sticky note.

No, I’m talking about the whole collegiate sports system, in which almost everyone involved is enriched


the actual athletes providing the entertainment.

Here’s a partial list of the grown-ups earning real money from the basketball tournament: Broadcasters, referees, coaches, administrators, trainers, ticket-takers, auditorium cleaners, sportswriters, newspaper owners, talk show hosts, bracketologists, hoteliers, restaurateurs, bar owners, waiters, beer makers, souvenir makers, vendors shall we go on?

Somehow, though, it’s improper if Jamar Samuels at K-State gets $200 to eat.

Yes, some college athletes, certainly not all, get scholarships that provide an education they might not otherwise receive. They get to travel, sometimes they get special study help, they eat better.

All true, but irrelevant. Athletes are entitled to a reasonable share of the revenue they generate. Imagine a motion picture industry which paid directors, producers, film editors, screenwriters, cinematographers — even the popcorn maker — but compensated the actors in room, board and “experience.”

The average salary for a Division 1 men’s basketball coach last year was $1.4 million, USA Today reports. In its 2010 tax return, the charity running Kansas athletics reported net assets of $51 million. The NCAA — also a tax-deductible charity — took in $741 million.

Samuels doesn’t get a salary.

There are several suggestions for improving this sorry picture. Here’s mine: Take a percentage of national ticket, broadcast, and licensing revenue generated by a sport — say, 50 percent — and set it aside to pay an equal stipend to each athlete in that sport

upon graduation


Athletes would be allowed to borrow against the stipend during their time in school, at little or no interest, for ordinary expenses. If an athlete failed to graduate, the borrowing would become a normal debt just like any other student loan. Athletes who don’t borrow, but simply don’t make it to commencement, would forfeit the stipend.

Such a system wouldn’t solve every problem, but it would 1) provide an incentive for students to graduate, and 2) allow them a piece of the action if they do.

Supporters of the status quo argue no one is forcing college athletes into the current system, no matter what an antitrust lawyer might argue. But just because exploitation is voluntary doesn’t mean it isn’t exploitation, as many college interns know.

When kids work for peanuts and adults get rich, more than brackets seem broken.