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Should college athletes be paid?

Tebow jersey By Mike McCall

Sorry it took me so long to get posts up, but I found out I had blogging duties this weekend the same way you did, so you'll have to forgive me. While Joe is off at the Goodman family gathering, I'd like to tackle one of the biggest debates in college sports, that of whether or not college athletes should be paid.

I've always been fascinated by this discussion because there are so many sides to it, but let's start with the most obvious one.

The Cash Cow

Perhaps no one could serve as a better case for paying college athletes than Tim Tebow.

Ever since he arrived in Gainesville, people have been profiting from his image and name.

The University Bookstore, located on campus, sold around 2,000 of Tebow’s No. 15 jerseys last year. That’s a rate of 166 per month, ranging in price from $75 to $150. I even saw a bunch of his jerseys for sale in the Knoxville mall last fall. Slap an autograph on one of those jerseys and you can sell it for a huge profit, like the one on eBay right now for $624.99.

A few months ago, I was over in Haile Village, and there was an art festival of some kind going on.Tebow Men's Fitness Sketches of Tim's face, jewelry featuring his jersey number and even a painting selling for $6,500 were all on display. His image has been used to sell magazines, newspapers, highlight videos, t-shirts and now, panties. His play on the field has sold tickets and earned UF millions for playing in high-profile bowl games.

It seems like everyone is making money off Tim Tebow, except for Tim Tebow. Due to NCAA rules, Tebow is prevented from benefitting financially as a result of his status as an athlete. He even has to jump through hoops just to do charity work.

In the week leading up to Florida’s spring football game, Tebow participated in charity events that raised around $300,000 for the children’s hospital at Shands at UF and an orphanage in the Philippines.

Tebow was only allowed to help after months of dialogue with the NCAA to ensure that Tebow, his family and his father’s ministry, the Bob Tebow Evangelist Association, would not benefit.

“I don’t really care about getting paid, but sometimes I do wish I could do more charity work and help out with stuff like that,” Tebow said.

Tebow may not care, but many of his teammates do.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the UF football program generated more than $66 million in 2007, while the men’s basketball program brought in $9.9 million. After expenses, those teams made $47.2 million and $2.1 million, respectively.

In it's 2008-09 budget summary, the UAA projected to make $8.6 million in SEC revenue from bowl games, television contracts and championships, $2.1 million from advertising and $29.9 million in donations from boosters.

Also, since Tebow’s jersey hit the shelves, licensing revenues have almost doubled to a projected $4 million, a number that will likely be surpassed in the wake of the Gators’ recent national title.

Those numbers, especially from the football team, have convinced many that the athletes doing the work on the field deserve a cut.

“Honestly, I think we should get a little something,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “When you look at all the money coming in for the games and everything, [the university gets] all the money. It wouldn’t hurt for us to just get a little something.”

Already Compensated?

The argument against paying athletes centers on the fact that they get academic scholarships. Of the Gators’ 122 football players, 85 are on athletic scholarships, ranging in value from $12,300 for in-state students to $29,150 for non-Floridians. The scholarships cover tuition, housing, a meal plan and books, and there are other benefits that come with being a student-athlete, such as trainers, tutors and special advisers to help with scheduling.

The bases are covered, but in the shadow of coach Urban Meyer’s $3.2 million-per-year contract and the program’s sky-high revenues and success, shouldn't the kids doing the work at least get some money to eat somewhere other than Gator Dining?

When it comes to the scholarship debate, there are a few sides to it. Sure, getting a degree would double or even triple the players' earning power, but does it really help if they're getting that degree in a major they were herded into so they'd still have time for football? Probably not. Also, it should be pointed out that college--and graduating--isn't for everyone. That needs to be respected. There are people in college for no reason other than because it's a necessary stop en route to a pro career. An easy way around that in basketball would be to allow players to go to the NBA out of high school, so then college would be more of a choice.

Football has no such option, and the bottom line is, Florida's case is the exception. UF wasn't making money off its athletic program until 2006, and many schools lose money overall. What's more, outside of football and men's hoops, UF teams lost $13.5 million in 2007. 

No Fair Solution

Considering that most schools lose money on athletics and that most teams even at the best-earning schools are also in the red, how could athletes be paid fairly? The whole argument is based on the fact that athletes make tons of money for the schools, so what should be done in cases where they lose money?

If only player on money-making teams were paid, there'd be a huge recruiting advantage for the schools that can pay. Also, Title IX would be very hard to work around because very, very few female athletes would be getting paid. Haden's desire for "a little something" seems very reasonable for his situation, but there are plenty of schools who wouldn't be able to afford even small stipends.

On the flip side of that, former Miami football player Dan Sileo, who hosts a radio show in Tampa, says the athletes who play smaller sports have no room to complain.

“I think the kids who are on the women’s basketball team, they’re lucky they have programs like Florida football and Florida basketball,” he said. “They’re getting a scholarship out of it, and they’re lucky they’re even in the building because if it wasn’t for those football and basketball teams, they wouldn’t be there.”

Sileo said paying players a stipend of a few hundred dollars per month would be doable for programs like Florida, and it would help curtail the under-the-table payments he witnessed while playing for UM.

Despite the fact that larger programs would have the ability to pay more than smaller ones, Sileo doesn’t think it would create a recruiting advantage beyond what already exists.

“When Central Florida goes to the Liberty Bowl and Florida goes to the BCS National Championship Game, $17 million is going to Florida while $1.2 million is going to UCF,” he said. “There’s already a built-in economic imbalance in the type of bowl games they go to. South Carolina got $3 million to go to the Outback Bowl, but a team from a smaller conference gets much less. It’s already going on, just not with the players.”

The Amateur Spirit

Another issue to consider is what paying athletes would do to the spirit of college athletics, a sentiment I think is expressed best by UF receiver David Nelson.

“If you add the paying component to it, it takes away from the atmosphere and love that makes up college football," Nelson said. "You look at the NFL, and it’s a job and a business. It’s all about the individual and how much money they’re getting. In college, it’s all about doing what you can for the team and the university.

"If you add that paying component in, it takes away from the atmosphere and camaraderie with have between the team and student body. People ask me all the time if we should get paid, and I don’t think so.”

So, with all that in mind, where do you stand on the issue? I've always been very interested in the legality of how the NCAA treats student-athletes. If a court ever determines that college athletes are employees, they'd have the right to unionize and demand wages, and the whole house would come down.

Another rule I don't like is that in a case where Tebow's image or name is used to sell commercial products, UF and Tebow have the responsibility to send cease-and-desist letters to preserve his eligibility. It should fall on the NCAA to run all these people down, and it's ridiculous to me that the NCAA doesn't think it is profiting off of Tebow just because his name isn't used on the jerseys or video games being sold. Everyone knows it's Tebow, and Florida, the NCAA and businesses are all making money directly from his hard work.

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