The head football coach of my graduate school alma mater has resigned in disgrace. Jim Tressel tendered his resignation to the Ohio State University this week after investigation by the NCAA and penalities from the school for covering up misconduct by several players. The story is simple in its facts but complicated in its implications. Basically, a local tattoo store owner gave several current players cash, a car, and free tattoos in exchange for Ohio State memorabilia that they had received in the course of being football players. This is against NCAA rules. Apparently, making a profit of of stuff you get by virtue of being on a college football team is not allowed – while you’re still on the team. If they had graduated, dropped out, or stayed in school but left the football program, I think they could have sold their stuff with impunity. They broke no laws. They just took money for items that were theirs to sell except for the NCAA’s contention that student athletes should derive no gain from being athletes beyond the value of their education and athletic training.
Coach Tressel heard of this via email, said he’d take care of it, then didn’t. I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t want to get the kids in trouble. Maybe he didn’t want them suspended or kicked off the team for their violations because he needed them to win games. Maybe he didn’t think it was that big a deal and wanted to brush it under the rug. Who knows? Now he’s in trouble for covering up NCAA ethics violations and he left the University despite being a stellar coach, recruiter, and spokesman for the school.
Now tell me, who do you think is wrong here? The kids for breaking the rules? Tressel for trying to cover up rule breaking? The University for not firing him when they first heard about him covering up rule breaking? Or the NCAA for coming down on some kids who made a quick buck and the coach who let them get away with it?
Let’s look at Ohio State football by the numbers:
That’s a lot of money. Tressel makes a lot of money. Gee, too. He’s the highest paid university president in America. They get a lot out of this program. What do the players get? Scholarships, room and board, plus training. One estimate has that valued at about $110,000 per year, per athlete.
So, the kids get trained to be top flight football players. How many of them go pro?
Not too many. But they get an education. How many of them graduate with an undergraduate degree?
More than half. But 37% don’t finish a degree, which is only good news if they’re one of the few that winds up with an NFL contract. Because the income prospects for these highly trained athletes with some or all of a college education, if they stay in Ohio, is not glowing:
Scroll back up. Look at the amount of money the football program takes in. Look at Jim Tressel’s salary. Look at the revenues of the NCAA which totaled $757,000,000 last year. That’s a lot of money. People are getting rich on college sports.
Just…not the athletes.
Five kids who have given up a lot of their youth to football, whose skills on the field are the cornerstone of a massive money-making industry, and who stand little to no chance of ever making a profit on their work as players sold some stuff that was rightfully theirs. What did they get for it?
They got a five-game suspension for their actions. They had to pay back the cash and the value of the tattoos. The ink they can keep. That may be the only lasting benefit of their years as unpaid whores to the college sports machine if they don’t make it to the NFL or graduate from the University.
Remember that the school spends $110,000 per athlete. That’s $13 million spent on the football players who generate all of that back plus another $44 million. That means each kid on the football team is bringing in $360,000 in pure profit, after the costs to the University to educate, feed, shelter, and train them. Each of these kids is worth 4 times what the school spends on them.
So, where’s the wrongdoing here? The sale of memorabilia by athletes who own it? Or the sale of athletes for big money that they never get to collect?
Personal Note: I should mention that I am a HUGE college football fan. I also taught and tutored student athletes in my time at Ohio State and I have enormous respect for the hard work and discipline that these kids exhibit, especially the ones in the non-marquee sports who are using athletics as the means to pay for their education, not a stepping stone to a lucrative pro career. I am in no way suggesting college sports are a bad thing. I am saying that college sports don’t always treat the athletes as well as they deserve.