Labor - And A Whole Lot More

Many Profit From Bowl Games. But Not The Players

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Here come the yearly college football bowl games again and the tons of money they bring to participating schools, their highly-paid coaches, lucky gamblers and the TV networks and others that use their broadcasts of the games to peddle beer and other merchandise at great profit.

 The colleges alone will get payouts of up to $22 million each. But the so-called student athletes who make it all possible will, as usual, get virtually nothing.

There are no less than 22 bowl games this holiday season. They start on Dec. 15 with the fetchingly named Famous Idaho Potato Bowl that pits Utah State against Toledo  in Boise and the Gidian New Mexico Bowl, Nevada vs. Arizona, in Albuquerque.

The athletic factories, aka colleges, that are involved in the lucrative business of college sports are like any other factories. They pay lots to those who manage their enterprises – coaches in their case – and as little as possible to the employees who do the work – the student athletes, of course.

Major schools pay their coaches in the high five or six figures, and allow them to collect thousands more from manufacturers for outfitting their teams of alleged amateurs in particular brands of clearly labeled footgear and uniforms bearing brand names and symbols, such as the Nike swoosh.

And what do the student athletes get for their efforts in behalf of their schools, there coaches and the shoe salesmen of America? Most don't even get a college degree  – don't even graduate. And only a relative few go on to the professional teams that pay big bucks to former college stars.

Football and basketball players, whose games bring in more than $6 billion a year, are the most exploited. They typically spend more time practicing and playing than studying and attending classes.

 They get room and board, tuition plus, in some cases a few thousand dollars under the table or some expensive goods and services. But that's about it. And they have no job security. They can be fired – stripped of their athletic scholarships – if they don't play as well as their coaches demand. They are mere employees, after all.
"You're not a student athlete but an athlete-student," noted Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, who left the University of Indiana before graduation to play professionally for the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association.

Thomas said the student athlete's "main purpose is to be a ballplayer, to generate some money, put people in the stands. Eight or ten hours of your day are filled with basketball, football."

The money the players generate is badly needed, say the colleges that employ them. Badly needed, that is, to help finance the schools' athletic programs.

Colleges could scale down the programs, of course, maybe even redesign them for the use of genuine students. But the schools engaged in big-time athletics are so heavily committed to staging lucrative public spectacles they wouldn't even consider such a revolutionary move.

So, as long as they continue chasing after money generated by their athletes, how about sharing some of what they get with the athletes whose play makes their money-making possible? How about treating them as employees elsewhere are treated?

Drop the fiction that student athletes are amateurs and openly pay them for their play, and provide them fringe benefits, job security and a voice in determining their wages, hours and working conditions.  Or at least pay stipends of, say, $2000 to the athletes they recruit to play for their colleges, as has been seriously considered by members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

That at least would be a step toward giving athletes a fair share of the billions they earn for their colleges. The next step should be up to the student athletes themselves. They should – what else? – organize a union.

Copyright © 2012  Dick Meister