The NCAA’s control of what it considers unpaid student-athletes is absolute. It creates a uniform set of rules for each sport — with the emphasis on the I — that govern how players can be paid and on expenses, including meal expenses. Every student-athlete comes to these types of programs with the opportunity to compete, receive an education and “get an education” along the way.
It’s worth noting that because the NCAA requires an institution to be classified as an NCAA Division I institution, those programs will actually benefit from an NCAA membership. For instance, Georgetown University will receive millions of dollars, since the program will be in its third year of eligibility. It helps to be a member of an I-funded program.
Lane soccer at Georgetown currently is on its third year of eligibility for championship eligibility, but was never considered a scholarship program before the NCAA recognized it as such. A majority of its student-athletes are on full scholarships, with some of the scholarships allowed for other athletes (e.g., lacrosse scholarship).
Through 2013-14, the average Maryland-based women’s lacrosse program was in the top 10 nationally in athletic distributions but fell off significantly from 2001-03 to 2014-15. This was largely due to the program having no scholarships since it was not classified as an NCAA Division I program.
Two of the top-15 biggest football programs in the country (Kansas and Duke) are members of an I-funded program. The cash distributions from those programs are based on the enrollment for the year, which includes non-scholarship athletes. These payments don’t include recruiting or travel expenses, meaning that these programs are not really getting into the money as a whole. A vast majority of those that fall into the top-15 biggest football programs in terms of cash distributions are on scholarship programs.
In basketball, Duke received $6.5 million in athletic distributions for 2015-16 — less than half of the top-five programs in the sport.
The department of health, labor and education attempted to analyze the ratio of the percentage of athletic distributions for players and non-players for over the past 20 years to see whether it was changing. In 2014, they concluded that:
Both football and men’s basketball (38 percent) received considerably more in distributions to players from 1991-94 (31 percent) than from 2002-04 (27 percent). But the trend is about the same for men’s basketball (29 percent vs. 29 percent) and football (27 percent vs. 30 percent).
Outside of football and men’s basketball, women’s basketball received far less in distributions to players from 1991-94 (26 percent) than from 2002-04 (17 percent).
As I mentioned, the distinction between student-athletes and other non-athletes gets cloudier. For example, kids that are enrolled full-time in the College of Columbia or the University of Maryland for bachelors and minors or master’s degrees receive some form of scholarship from each institution. At both Hopkins and Georgetown, those kids are enrolled in and getting an education. Unlike the players on scholarship on the field or court, they are getting the opportunity to further their education on campus, as well as access to the campus.
The athletes in the Maryland men’s lacrosse program have zero playing ability but do receive some type of education from the University of Maryland as well as the school’s athletic department. If the student-athletes were required to pay for their schooling rather than the school paying for it and having it funded out of athletics, I’m certain we would be seeing a dramatic drop in player distributions.
This is how economics affects society and not the other way around. Why should athletes be the only people benefitting from taxpayer money when the tax benefit is greater than $1,000? The current state of college athletics is completely out of touch with reality, and I believe it is time for a change.
Stark compares an NCAA Division I athletic department to a luxury cruise ship. An $11,000 membership buys more than a front seat on the ship. The difference between paying tuition and paying for a part-time job isn’t negligible. But the answer can’t be changing how we’re doing things to make it more equal.