Remember in the 2012 campaign for the presidency when Barack Obama’s speech on economic development became a meme with the quote, “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that”?
“You didn’t build that” was Obama’s attempt to state that a successful businesses relies on both equal parts of individual initiative and public infrastructure, with Republican Mitt Romney correctly capitalizing on this socialist quip and going on the attack against the idea that big government is somehow the ally of small-business owners and entrepreneurs.
But the phrase “you didn’t built that” is one that needs to enter into the debate about paying college athletes, particularly after Time magazine published a cover story stating: “It’s Time to Pay College Athletes: College sports are mass entertainment. It’s time to fully reward players for their work.”
Putting “Johnny Football” Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M on the cover, Time asks this question: “Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is worth millions to his school,” and asks, “Where’s his cut?”
College athletes today have never had it better, with major universities like Ohio State, Auburn, Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame investing tens of millions of dollars into new student-athlete centers and facilities to pamper these 18-to-22-year-olds with a lifestyle once reserved only for royalty.
An athlete like Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, is valuable to Texas A&M, but there’s a simple fact Time and most advocates of compensating college athletes fail to consider: Texas A&M was built long before Manziel signed his letter-of-intent to play football at the school and be a scholarship athlete.
In essence, Manziel “didn’t build Texas A&M”: He has had no hand in the creation of the fan base, alumni, individual donors to the school and infrastructure. Those tangible and intangible “assets” were put in place over many decades in the form of tiny building blocks laid in place one by one by many past scholarship athletes not dissimilar from Manziel. (Maybe not physically, but you get the point.)
Coming out of high school in Macon, Ga., I had a scholarship lined up to attend the University of Georgia (UGA) and play baseball. The Atlanta Braves offered me a contract, so instead of heading to Athens, Ga., to be a student-athlete, I reported to Class A and began a career in the “glorious” minor leagues.
Now, had I gone to UGA, I’d have had my tuition and room and board paid for through my scholarship. In exchange for playing baseball for four years and representing the university on the diamond, I’d have emerged from UGA with a degree and no student loan debt.
Not to mention, playing baseball for a major university (or playing any sport, particularly revenue-producing sports like football and basketball) would have offered me the chance to meet high-level boosters and make contacts throughout the UGA community that could have turned into a potential vocation if baseball hadn’t worked out when I graduated. Particularly if, in this hypothetical collegiate situation, my baseball career ended after throwing my last pitch wearing a UGA uniform.
Just like those commercials for the NCAA state, “most college athletes go pro in something besides sports.” Having had the opportunity to leverage their athletic scholarship and make lasting contacts with donors and boosters while representing the school, a student-athlete today has an unbelievable opportunity/advantage in receiving a high-profile job right out of college.
The athlete can end up working for one of those big-time donors to the school who remembers the touchdown pass once tossed against the big rival that helped seal an invitation to a bowl game, or can secure a job working in sales based on the three-point shot you made to advance in the NCAA Tournament to the Sweet 16.
Out of the 20 million students who attend college annually, 60 percent must borrow money to attend. Translation: Most college graduates will leave college with a diploma and the financial burden of college debt.
Almost every college athlete, unless they receive only a partial scholarship or are a walk-on athlete (meaning they attend school without a scholarship), will leave school without any debt.
A lot of them, particularly Southeastern Conference (SEC) football and basketball athletes, also leave school without a diploma.
Some can’t cut it as a student, some allow their eligibility to run out (a college athlete has only four years of eligibility), and some get drafted into the professional ranks of the sport they play.
An athlete like Manziel, whose declaration for the NFL draft is no doubt on the horizon, will have big-time Texas A&M donors and boosters paying big-money for his services once his NCAA eligibility runs out.
If the NFL doesn’t materialize, you can bet there’s a Texas A&M alumni in Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio who owns a business (that they did build) and will gladly hire Manziel.
You see, college athletics represent something like an extended family. Many generations of an individual family might attend a school like the University of Alabama, making connections at fraternities and sororities that will be beneficial throughout their professional life.
Yes, college athletes, particularly those who play revenue-producing sports, deserve some form of compensation outside of their scholarship.
But you can’t put a price-tag on the opportunity a student-athlete attending a school in the SEC, Big Ten, or other major conference receives when it comes to the connections they’ll make representing their university on the football field or basketball court.
If a college athlete is smart, they’ll do everything possible to get internships at companies owned by big-time boosters/donors to their university that will give them experience in case those professional dreams don’t materialize.
No argument can be made that college athletes generate tremendous revenue for their various institutions, but by playing the game and their cards right many of these athletes have the opportunity to see the revenue they helped create return to them tenfold simply for the jersey they were allowed to wear.