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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

October 30, 2014 at 6:21 AM

Should college athletes be paid for performance?

Husky linebacker John Timu celebrates a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown. What was that play worth?

Husky linebacker John Timu celebrates a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown. What was that play worth? (Photo by Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

The Pac-12 this week held itself out as the most progressive big athletic conference in the country in passing a suite of reforms of the increasingly criticized “student-athlete” model.

Here’s what progressive reforms look like: guaranteed 4-year scholarships for athletes, and an ability to tap the scholarship later if they leave before graduation; reimbursed medical expenses for on-the-field injuries up to four years after leaving school; liberalized transfers within Pac-12 schools; and a seat at the Pac-12 governance table.

It’s hard to argue with any of these, although it is surprising they’re new in a conference and at institutions that reap tens of millions from the athletes’ performances. Washington State University President Elson Floyd, who chairs the Pac-12 CEO group, said the conference is working on “the total cost of attendance.” That term of art refers to the gap between an athlete’s scholarship and the out-of-pocket costs, estimated to be an average of $3,500 per athlete.

But left off the list are the increasing demands for a “pay for performance” model for student athletes. In August, a federal judge sided with former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon in a lawsuit demanding residual compensation for athletes’ likeness in broadcasts and video games, putting huge pressure on NCAA president (and former UW president) Mark Emmert. A bigger anti-trust lawsuit filed by attorney Jeffery Kessler, who envisions an “open marketplace” college athletics, is pending.

The argument for performance-based play boils down to simple equity. The average salary for a big-time college football coach last year was $2.05 million (the UW’s Chris Peterson earned $3.2 million), while student-athletes worked an average of 43 hours a week, requiring them to miss classes. Forbes argued athletes are “core members of their university’s marketing teams.”

I asked University of Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward about the pressure. “It’s a terrible model. It just wouldn’t work.”

Indicative of the pressure building, the arguments against pay for performance are no longer just about the value of amateurism. There could be tax consequences for scholarships — upwards of $50,000 a year. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wonders how a marketplace would work. Would female and male athletes be paid equally? If so, what are the Title IX implications?

“The unintended consequences of pay for performance are mind-numbing,” said Woodward.

What do you think? Click here and offer your argument. If we get enough comments, we’ll publish excerpts.

Comments | Topics: college athletes, football, NCAA

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