08/11/2014 06:30 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

Colleges Should Be About Education First


On Friday, a federal judge ruled against the NCAA, paving the way for college athletes to get paid. Paid even more, that is. The average cost of a four-year college education can exceed $300,000 -- and most Division I NCAA basketball and football athletes get that entire education, completely free of charge. Scholarship athletes get up to FIVE years of tuition, fees, books, room and board; just for being good enough in high school to be offered a full ride.

The basis of the demand for even more money is that the university will use the player's likeness in their marketing, to generate money. First of all, the only players' whose likeness is valuable is the very small percentage of scholarship athletes who actually become stars while in college. Secondly, isn't it conversely true that the university is PROVIDING the athlete the forum -- including coaching, facilities and national exposure -- to become a star in the first place? If the player doesn't become a star, then does the university get to ask for the scholarship money back? If the star player goes on to make millions in the NFL or NBA, does the university get a piece of those earnings?

Baseball has its own minor league system. Rookie players are paid as low as $1100/month and can be cut anytime. College scholarship athletes are getting value up to $75,000/year and unless they quit the team or commit an egregious offense, they cannot lose that value. Where would a gifted athlete rather be at 18 years of age? Toiling away in some small town on an unknown rookie league team in baseball, or playing to a national TV crowd and sold out stadiums on a Division I powerhouse?

Some claim that the education has no real value to the athletes as they are really only there to play sports. Fine. Then, by definition, those athletes should not be at an institution of higher education. They should be playing sports in a minor league or club sports system, separate to athletics at the university system. Others argue that paying players a stipend will prevent players from taking under-the-table "gifts" from boosters, agents and others. Hardly. In Friday's ruling, the judge contemplated a $5,000/year payment to athletes. Top athletes are worth millions in lifetime earnings. Those who are prone to cheat are unlikely to be deterred by the relatively tiny sum of $5,000. More likely, the extra $5,000 will likely serve to increase the entitlement attitude we all complain about in watching some of today's top stars.

Clearly, some players become transcendent stars whose value is far greater than others, but the same is true in academics. Some students just get through, while others contribute valuable research that brings the university millions in endowments and even greater reputation value. And yes, coaches who recruit and win with star players command multimillion dollar salaries and huge shoe endorsement deals. The answer to that isn't more money, it's less. College coaching salaries should be regulated and endorsement dollars should go to the university. Pretty sure a great coach will still show up to work for only $1 million/year, instead of the $5 million some top coaches make. That extra $4 million might just do more good offering academic scholarships. Same with the shoe or apparel endorsement dollars.

Sports have value to the modern university system. They give students something to rally around, keep alumni engaged (and contributing) and build a lasting tie with the university or college. That value is recognized in giving full scholarships to players, and seven-figure salaries to coaches. At a time when just going to college is increasingly out of reach for millions of middle class and lower-income Americans, there are much better uses for a university's resources than increasing the imbalance between a student athlete and just a student.