Football povertyCollege football and basketball players are getting played instead of getting paid: Though they bring in the big bucks for their institutions of higher learning, many star athletes are living below the poverty line, according to a new study, The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport.

The study, conducted by the National College Players Association and Drexel University's department of sport management, looked at football and basketball teams from Football Bowl Subdivision colleges and calculated athletes' out-of-pocket education-related expenses (over and above their "full" scholarships), and compared the room-and-board portion of players' scholarships to the federal poverty line -- as well as to coaches' and athletic administrators' salaries. It then used NFL and NBA collecting bargaining agreements to estimate the fair market value of FBS football and basketball players.

The results were none too favorable for athletes: The average scholarship shortfall -- the student's out-of-pocket expenses -- for each "full scholarship" athlete was approximately $3,222 per player during the 2010-11 school year. The report also found that the room-and-board provisions in a full scholarship leave 85% of players living on campus and 86% of players living off campus living below the federal poverty line. And the estimated "fair market value" of those FBS football and basketball players to their institutions? $120,048 and $265,027, respectively.

Poverty in sports

"We all know that big time football and basketball players receive much less than they are worth, but the disparity between players' fair market value, what they receive, and the money that others receive is shocking," said NCPA President Ramogi Huma, who co-authored the study, in a prepared statement.

"I was most surprised by the fair market value calculations for FBS football and basketball players," Huma told DailyFinance. "I had seen estimates from the late '90s that were around $50,000 or so. But $120,000 and $265,000? The numbers jumped out immediately."

And those are just averages: Some examples point to even more striking disparities. The University of Texas football players' fair market value was $513,922 in 2010, but they lived $778 below the federal poverty line and had a $3,624 scholarship shortfall. Duke basketball players were valued at $1,025,656 while living just $732 above the poverty line and had scholarship shortfalls of $1,995. The University of Florida had the highest combined football and basketball revenues while its players' scholarships left them living $2,250 below the federal poverty line and a $3,190 scholarship shortfall. The score: Players, zero; Schools, coaches and just about everybody else involved, millions.

The 60 highest-paid FBS football coaches averaged more than $2 million in total compensation, according to the report, with big guns like Alabama's Nick Saban and Texas' Mack Brown earning an estimated $6 million and $5.1 million, respectively. The 25 highest-paid basketball coaches in the 2011 NCAA tournament averaged about $2.4 million, with Rick Pitino of Louisville taking home a compensation package of $7.5 million.

Based on the findings in the study and an Inside Higher Education report showing that almost half of FBS colleges were caught violating NCAA rules between 2001 and 2010, the report implicates the NCAA itself as the chief culprit for the scandals that have plagued college sports.

"Through the NCAA, college presidents mandate impoverished conditions for young, valuable players and throw money around to all other college sports stakeholders when those players perform well, a formula that drives the powerful black market that thrives at so many universities nationwide," the report concludes.

It also points out that, despite athletic programs' record revenues, salaries and capital expenditures -- as well as prohibitions on countless sources of income for athletes -- the NCAA explicitly allows college athletes to accept food stamps and welfare benefits. "The NCAA is forcing taxpayers to pay for expenses that players would be able to pay themselves if not for NCAA rules. I guess the NCAA expects both college athletes and taxpayers to finance its greed and lavish salaries," Huma stated.

The ramifications are huge for athletes. "If nothing changes, about half of football and basketball players will continue to not graduate and will continue to break NCAA rules. If reform takes place, graduation rates will increase dramatically, their financial desperation will be reduced, and they will finally receive their commercial free market value," predicted Huma.

"We have practical recommendations for a new amateur model that would increase graduation rates, minimize violations, and decrease the immoral financial disparity between the amount of money invested in athletes' education and the lavish salaries paid to coaches and athletic administrators," he said. " With the college presidents admitting failure and a lack of power, only the federal government has the ability to bring forth reform."

The NCPA report recommends that the Justice Department and Congress enact comprehensive reform through NCAA deregulation and more educational support for college athletes. Among the report's suggestions:
1. Alleviate some of the athletes' financial desperation by using new TV revenues to provide athletic scholarships that fully cover each school's cost of attendance.

2. Adopt the Olympic amateur model by lifting restrictions on college athletes' commercial opportunities such as endorsements and autograph signings. A portion of the funds could be placed in an educational lockbox (described below) to help increase graduation rates and decrease NCAA violations.

3. Allow revenue-producing athletes to receive a portion of new revenues that can be placed in an educational lockbox, a trust fund to be accessed to assist in or upon the completion of their college degree. Players who violate NCAA rules could lose some or all of their portion from this fund.
Drexel University professor Ellen Staurowsky, the study's other co-author, sums it up: "Our findings continue to unmask the pretense that big-time college sport is about 'kids' playing 'games.' Big-time college sport is about big business. The mythology of the 'student-athlete' as promoted by the NCAA is revealed to cover up a system of inequities in compensation and treatment for the athletes who make the most sacrifices and contribute the most to the enterprise."

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Wouldn't be a problem if not for abuse of the older system. Players getting $300-$500 a week to make sure the artificial turf stays watered and cut to certain height or that the automatic lighting system turns on and off at the correct time. These players have other sources of income and are NOT walking around with empty pockets. When was the last time you saw a college athlete walk around wearing $20 dollar store athletic shoes? Or goodwill clothing? Not to mention their SNAP benefits. Which are often sold. Many of these cards actually have cash benefits on top of food stamps so they can buy non food items. All they are doing is taking these payment from under the table to above board.

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--------student-athletes are allowed to have jobs as long as they are getting paid the normal rate, they are actually doing work, and they are not paid based on their athletic skill or reputation. Its Bylaw 12 if you want to look it up.

September 28 2011 at 4:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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September 28 2011 at 1:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

student-athletes are allowed to have jobs as long as they are getting paid the normal rate, they are actually doing work, and they are not paid based on their athletic skill or reputation. Its Bylaw 12 if you want to look it up.

September 22 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This really does need to be addressed. Some of these players come from poor families who can't help at all. Since these players are not allowed to get a part-time job, they are left with few options.

September 14 2011 at 10:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Jan Kemp was right. Look up her history and effect on college sports.

September 14 2011 at 10:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

They're getting a free college education if they're on scholarship and now they're crying about having it so bad. Oh I feel so sorry for these crybaby jocks. My dad died when I was 14 and my mom put both me and my sister through college without borrowing any money. I know a bit about living on minimum funding. Buy hey, jocks are special people and need to be coddled I guess.

September 14 2011 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to g-locker62_p's comment
Georgeq Tharby

I am in agreement that the schools shouldn't be paying them more than the scholarship, however I see no reason that the schools should prevent players from earning outside income not through the schools, especially while the school themselves sell merchandise with their name on it. I am allowed to get a job (even through the university) if I have a full scholarship and don't play sports. Why are sports players different?

September 14 2011 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Georgeq Tharby's comment

It comes down to them getting jobs that the alumni pays them to sit on their butts at a high rate of pay for the hours they work. It was like in one movie the guys job was to water the grass and it had a automatic sprinklers

December 21 2013 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I was on a full academic scholarship to study engineering at one of the premier football schools in the nation. I used to believe that they should not get paid, but after realizing just how much money the NCAA makes from exploiting these players I now feel they should at least receive more than just the cost of attendance. I did research and actually got paid pretty well (way above minimum wage) to do so. I think the NCAA caps how much 'leftover' money the players can receive from scholarships too - which is just completely wrong. I earned enough scholarships so that I had a significant amount in the form of a refund check.

Also, all that talk about them being students first is baloney. At the most competitive programs, they are athletes first. My good friend who played at another top program told me himself that he shouldn't even be there because his academics were definitely way below the school's standards.

I commend the boosters who provide gifts for the top athletes - minus the strip club parties lol. At least they realize how valuable the player is to the school. What's a $30,000 Camaro when the player has the top selling jersey and is bringing in 70,000+ people to cheer his name?

Lastly, not sure how every school operates, but at my alma mater the athletic department is financially independent from the university. The coaches are paid by the athletic department, not the university. That is how they can afford to pay coaches so much. It is also the athletic department that grants the players' scholarships. If they were truly students first, then why isn't the university paying for their education.

September 14 2011 at 9:50 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

And before they got to college, they lived in free section 8 housing, had free utilities, free cable TV, had free healthcare, had free lunch throughout their entire 15 years in school, their “parents” never paid a dime in taxes, their parents collected welfare their entire life, their grandparents never paid a dime in taxes, their grandparents collected welfare their entire life, and on, and on, and on, and on. Don’t ask me to feel sorry for them, I’ve paid more than my fair share, and they’ve taken more than they’ll ever re-pay.

September 14 2011 at 9:49 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

3 hots and a cot plus a college education? If thats poverty where do you sign up for some of that kinda poverty. I think someone has been smoking too much rope.

September 14 2011 at 9:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply