Exploitation in College Football

It is football time again, the favorite time of the year for many people. As you watch players on the college football fields this fall, please remember that these gladiators are being exploited. They generate billions of dollars for colleges and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), and everyone involved is paid except them.

Yes, billions of dollars. Sports economist, Andrew Zimbalist, estimates college sports to be an $8 billion industry. Each of some 27 universities make at least $100 a year in college sports, mostly from football. And everyone involved is paid, except the individuals whose activities generate this revenue.

Some may argue that the college players do get paid, as they receive free scholarships. If that is pay, these young men are some of the lowest-paid workers in America. So-called student-athletes with full scholarships receive about $27,000 a year in tuition, room, and board. When you consider the many hours each player devotes to football each week this $27,000 is barely minimum wages.

Further, the majority of these athletes do not get degrees. In other words, few graduate and few get into the NFL. The situation is getting worse. For example, consider some new and relevant developments in the college football world.

One development is the escalation of salaries of college football coaches. Last year the University of Alabama provided Nick Saban, their football coach, an eight-year contract worth $74 million. Last April Clemson University gave their football coach, Dabo Swinney, a new 10-year deal worth $93 million. These are absurd salaries for people who are supposedly managing amateurs.

Each year Saban and Swinney earn nearly three times the average salary of head coaches in the NFL. They receive substantially more than Bill Belichick, who has led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl victories.

Another happening is the establishment of the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) sports network. In efforts to increase their revenue, college sports conferences (i.e., universities in collaboration) have organized their own sports networks.

The ACC is the fourth of the big five conferences to have its dedicated television channel. Among these five top conferences in college sports, only the Big 12 remains without a league focused network.

The Big Ten conference started the first dedicated conference channel 12 years ago. The Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) followed suit, and now the ACC is establishing its channel in collaboration with ESPN. They will split the revenue.

College football is big business with an amateurism sham. Probably the worst part of the exploitation of these college football players is that they are forced to “work” for pitiful benefits. If they want to play football in the NFL (many do, but few make it), they must play in college, and they must stay for three years.

The NCAA colludes with the NFL in prohibiting players from playing in the NFL until three years after their high school graduation. Why? The NFL has an expense-free minor league, and colleges have virtually free labor for their vast financial enterprise for at least three years.

By comparison, a music major who plays an instrument in a college band can leave college and join a professional musical group at any time. And a coach can leave one university at any time for higher pay at another. But football players cannot leave college and join a professional football team. That is exploitation in almost its purest form.