The College Football Playoff National Championship (what a name!) has gone to the Dogs this year, which is a good thing for fans of the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
As a 1973 graduate of UGA, I belong to that club. Growing up just 60 miles from the main campus in Athens, I have pulled for the “Dawgs” all my life – especially when they play Alabama.
One might argue that the entire college football enterprise has gone to the dogs in another and more questionable way.
I confess to having mixed feelings about it. The amount of money spent on college football is obscene, but what can we do?
In 2019-20, according to Sportico.com, the University of Georgia football program had total revenues of $134.4 million, and spent $48.5 million. Alabama’s football program brought in $110.1 million and spent $58.5 million. Other major colleges spend similar amounts.
The upside is that profits made from football are generally sufficient to finance all the other college sports, most of which, other than basketball, are rarely self-supporting.
While earning gargantuan sums of money for their schools, college athletes work an incredible number of hours and don’t get paid for it, beyond scholarships and other allowable perks. Until recently, they couldn’t earn any extra cash from their notoriety, even though some could have really used the income.
An NCAA rule change now allows players to profit from their name, image, and likeness – which means that high-profile players will make out like bandits and drive shiny new cars, while less visible players won’t do so well.
Recognizing that even the speediest running backs and best-passing quarterbacks can’t do anything without a strong offensive line to block for them, according to USA Today some donors have proposed paying linemen as much as $50,000 a year in return for their appearances at some charity events.
Salaries for college coaches are through the roof. Alabama’s Nick Saban ranks at the top of the list, making $9.75 million per year. Georgia’s Kirby Smart made $7.13 million last year, and that was fifth just among coaches in the SEC. Many assistant coaches make over a million dollars a year, while the president of the United States earns $400,000.
Top basketball coaches also make millions, of course, though they have a lot fewer players to deal with. Media revenue, donations, and sold-out arenas can really add up.
Universities will always argue that the programs are for the benefit of the student-athletes, even though the prime benefit for “one-and-done” players is the public exposure that drives up their value in the draft, and most tangible profits go to the institutions.
Schools will likewise argue that the exposure they gain from sports bolsters enrollment and other programs at the school.
I won’t argue with the need for that: given a report that college enrollment is down 6.6% over the past two years, they need all the help they can get to fill the dorms and classrooms again.
The greater concern, of course, is not just the institutions’ financial stability, but the fact that about 1.2 million fewer students are seeking degrees than before COVID-19 made life so hard for many of us. In the aftermath of COVID and a variety of other issues, jobs have become more plentiful than workers and wages have subsequently risen, leaving many to think they can do just fine without any further education.
And many will do well. We need well-paid mechanics and carpenters and people in other trades where most learning is on the job. We need service industry jobs that pay well enough for employees to live with dignity and not rely on a second job or government assistance.
But we need a lot of teachers and nurses, too. We need people who can think deeply about science and medicine and even politics, and they need higher education.
In a perfect world, we’d all have jobs that match our skills and interests, and we’d all be compensated sufficiently to live with some level of comfort.
College football players would get more than concussions, separated shoulders, and torn ACLs for their efforts, and well-prepared adjunct professors who suffer the indignity of working for less than a teenaged McDonald’s newbie would be treated more fairly.
That’s not my area of expertise and I don’t know how we could make meaningful progress toward that goal, but I wish more people would think about it – especially people who understand ethics as well as economics.