Last week Dabo Swinney signed a 10 year, $93 million dollar extension to stay on as head football coach at Clemson. For now, Swinney sits in the top spot of college coach salaries, moving ahead of Nick Saban’s contract at Alabama that pays him $74 million dollars over 8 years. The point here is not to criticize anyone who earns what the market will bear, but to instead emphasize why it’s hard to call college sports “amateur” today simply because the student athletes on the field aren’t getting paid — when at the same time NCAA coaches are making upwards of $100 million dollar deals. Does anyone really blame student athletes these days when they feel that they — the actual product that creates these kinds of salaries — want a part of the financial action?
Adding to the problem…
While the issue of student athletes playing for free is not tied exclusivity to Swinney’s new contract, the concerns become even greater when you take into account an actual quote of Swinney’s from a few years ago when asked about paying student athletes:
“We try to teach our guys, use football to create opportunities. Take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you. But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.”
So says the guy now making $93 million dollars.
There is no doubt that college athletics provide for visibility that can lead to future careers and endorsement deals, but that doesn’t always happen. For most student athletes, their “pay” comes in the form of being able to take free or reduced price classes in exchange for playing their sport (which some athletes have called a full-time job). Ironically, more student athletes seem to be burdened — not incentivized — by the free courses afforded to them, especially when they are required to keep minimum grades even though they only have interest in playing their sport professionally. The reality is college sports are already “professional,” especially when you have college coaches making exponentially more money than even college presidents. It’s also hard for me to see, as Dabo Swinney points out, that student athletes would be “entitled” for being paid a small fraction of money for literally creating the $93 million dollar windfall Swinney now enjoys?
Get this thing right already
The genie isn’t going back in the bottle — college athletics are only going to make more money in the future, coaches will earn more in salaries, and more weight will be placed on student athletes to produce so that their school and athletic department associates all get a healthy piece of the fiscal pie. How much longer will college leaders ignore the elephant in the room — the actual people who make the entire revenue stream happen? As coaches and athletic departments continue to enjoy the riches afforded to them through college athletics, how long will they continue to make student athletes feel guilty for asking for their fair share? When will college leaders realize that a free college education no longer incentivizes student athletes as it once did, and that increasingly more student athletes only have their eyes on making a living through pro sports? When will they accept that many student athletes don’t see real value in many colleges degrees, especially the “eligibility” degrees that student athletes are directed toward simply to stay eligible?
None of these issues would be as big as they are today if we didn’t regularly see college coaches regularly cashing in on huge financial contracts. And when wealthy coaches like Swinney chastise student athletes for thinking about getting paid as being “entitled,” it certainly doesn’t help.
Increased chances for cheating
When coaches like Swinney are paid astronomical salaries, it becomes quite clear the one, single variable that creates the big dollars: WINNING. On the surface, most people probably don’t think too much about this cause-effect relationship, but if you dig a little deeper you begin to see a host of potential problems that increase as the dollars get bigger. First, you have to recruit 5 star talent, and the means in which some schools have attracted those individuals include questionable ethical behaviors to illegal dealings (there are also questions as to whether the student athlete is even prepared to take on the academic rigors of college?). Next, you have to keep your star athletes above water with their grades, which can be tough considering how popular many big recruits are, and how some seem to have little interest in maintaining their grades. And finally, what do you do with your blue-chip student athletes — the ones largely responsible for coach salaries like Swinney’s — when they get in trouble, cheat, break the law, or do anything else that jeopardizes their eligibility? Do you hold them to the same standards as all students on campus are held to, or do you look the other way because there’s too much riding on them playing (and making the school big money). Whether you like it or not, as the stakes in amateur sports increase, so do the challenges with respect to integrity and playing by the rules.
What are colleges these days? While they claim to be institutions of higher learning, the highest salaries being paid on campuses across America belong to coaches, not college professors, administrators, or even presidents. The charade of claiming to be academics first, extracurricular activities second simply doesn’t ring true when you consider that colleges coaches who simply do their job are regularly paid huge bonuses, while professors who do exemplary work are rarely rewarded with pay raises — it’s simply expected they do their job.
amateur, athletes, cheating, coach, college, corruption, eligibility, NCAA, psychology, salaries, sport