Florida DB Calls College Football “Modern Form of Slavery”
It's been a debate as old as televised collegiate athletics have been around: should college athletes be paid? Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor took to Twitter the other day to express his thoughts on the situation.
Tabor wanted to get something off his chest when the fiscal numbers were released for the SEC Network. The new ESPN channel dedicated to all SEC sports made an incredible $527.4 million in revenue during the 2015 fiscal year.
Tabor shortly deleted the first tweet about slavery, and then tweeted out an apology soon after, but the damage had already been done.
First off, comparing collegiate athletics to slavery is nonsensical, no matter your opinion on the situation. Slavery is forcing someone or a group of people to work against their will, not compensating the worker(s) for said work, and oftentimes physically and emotionally abusing the worker(s). Willingly playing a sport, knowing you won't get directly paid through monetary means, is in no way slavery.
The argument of potentially paying collegiate athletes, however, will never end, so should players be rewarded for helping make a school/program/etc a lot of money? Absolutely. And they already do get rewarded for it.
For the most part, all Division I and Division II NCAA athletes get a free or nearly free higher education (save for walk-ons, some of which do receive some kind of scholarship(s) at some point); they get a free place to live with no bills other than a phone bill and a gas bill for their vehicles (personal expenses); for the football/basketball/baseball/and softball players, they get the reward of being on television at least a little bit for their friends/family/past classmates to watch them perform; they now get unlimited free food on campus, along with many other well-being benefits, such as top-notch free healthcare (also applied to walk-on athletes); and they get to travel across the country/world for free, playing a sport, a game.
In Division III, schools aren't allowed to award athletic scholarships, but they find loopholes to get around this in the form of community scholarships, esoteric academic scholarships, merit scholarships, and the like.
Coming out of high school, student-athletes that are bound to play at the collegiate level know the situation: you're going to attend a college to get an education, and you've been selected to join an athletic team. The student athlete chooses to continue playing the sport by signing a letter of intent to play, or they choose not to play. By choosing to play, they also accept the free education, free room and board, free healthcare, a cost of attendance stipend, and unlimited food that comes with it, along with the responsibilities of performing well in the classroom and managing that same time in conjunction with practice time. In other words, they get an entire cost of attendance scholarship from the NCAA that pays for everything they need to survive and get an education and to have an enjoyable college experience.
The NCAA makes an unreal amount of money on collegiate athletics ($906 million in revenue for 2014 fiscal year). The reason for this is that the consumers demand to watch collegiate sports. Simple economics says that as the demand rises, so should the supply. To be a fair environment, this surplus of supply will bring in more revenue, and with this added revenue, the company can then pay its employees.
However, the society surrounding collegiate sports has lost touch with the true, intrinsic value of an education. When it comes to monetary value, I'll give my personal example. When I graduated from the University of Alabama, I never played a varsity sport in college. I owed somewhere in the ballpark of $30,000 in student loan debt. I knew this would be the case when I applied to Alabama, and I knew this would be the case when I graduated from Alabama. I wasn't awarded a free education, free place to live, free unlimited food while on campus, free healthcare, and a cost of attendance stipend, but again, I knew all of this going into the situation. I valued the intrinsic value of my education much more than the monetary value that could eventually be paid off. Paying off the monetary debt isn't the easiest thing in the world to do, but that's my own fault for not being able to negate this debt by earning scholarships; but it's a manageable situation because I was prepared to manage this situation by my time in school.
Let's be real for a bit now: we all know that the NCAA is hiding behind the facade that they only value the academic statuses of all the student athletes; but if all they were concerned about was the well-being of the student athletes' academic statuses, then they wouldn't accept this much money for broadcasting rights and they wouldn't pay coaches millions of dollars. However, playing a sport in college (playing a sport while still in school) isn't a job; it's a privilege, and it's definitely not a "modern form of slavery."
Also, student athletes are, in fact, allowed to be employed while in college, but they just can't make money simply on the fact that people know them through collegiate athletics. Many student athletes work in grocery stores, fast food restaurants, maintenance jobs, and other places of employment that won't benefit either the employer or employee simply because the employee is a collegiate athlete.
Are some the higher-ups in the NCAA using this to basically wash their hands of the situation? Most likely, yes. But many of them do want to promote the true educational value of playing intercollegiate athletics. They've used a system to make a ton of money with minimal monetary output. But think about this same situation if the NCAA didn't make nearly $1 billion in revenue, but instead they made $100,000 in revenue. Would we still be advocating for collegiate athletes to be paid, even given more stipends?
Continuing to reward collegiate athletes with more and more is only further separating the top teams from the bottom teams. Collegiate athletics will eventually cease to exist at the lower divisions, simply because they won't be able to afford to pay like the upper-tier teams. On the surface, this seems fair (free market and whatnot), but after a while, those athletes will only want to play at the top-tier, simply because of the monetary benefits. If they don't make it, they won't want to play at a lower level for no pay. Do this over the macro scale, and you've dissolved collegiate athletics, with the exception of the few top-tier financial teams.
And if the smaller schools do decide to continue fielding varsity athletics without paying the athletes, then wouldn't that eventually evolve the "pay for play" teams into semi-professional, and even professional, teams? I mean, you've always gotta keep on "keeping up with the Jones's," right?
Of course we all know that the only sport that would make a sizable profit if that were the case would be football. So would football players (still "student athletes") be paid more than field hockey players? And would field hockey players get paid more than track athletes? What about the dual-sport athletes? Would they get paid twice as much, or would they be paid by the ratio of income relative to the number of sports and which sports they play? And then wouldn't dual-sport athletes begin flooding the "market" because of the potential for extra income?
Maybe the way to do away with this debate would be to stop broadcasting collegiate games altogether. But we, the consumers, don't want that, so we'll continue to be glued to our television sets each Saturday from September through the beginning of January.